By | Dave Ulrich | Speaker, Author, Professor, Thought Partner on HR, Leadership, and Organization
Much has been written about the first 100 days of a new job: listening tours to learn the ropes, setting a vision to shape a future, and enacting a new agenda to deliver early results.
Much less has been written about the last 100 days on a job.
Jobs sometimes do not have predictable expiration dates, and changes may be sudden, unexpected, and unplanned. However, leaders often know in advance when they will move on. This may be due to being one of the ten thousand baby boomers who are retiring each day in the United States (likely with a set date) or an announced succession plan for any leader.
So how do leaders best transition through their last 100 days?
1. Manage logistics.
Any transition is rife with choices about housing (possibly selling and buying a home), relocating (sorting, packing, and reestablishing), and lifestyle (leaving a network of services behind). Do the logistics; you don’t necessarily have to excel at them though. My wife has taught me (adapting Herbert Simon’s Noble Prize-winning work on satisficing): some things are so important to do (e.g., transition logistics) that they are worth doing poorly. Simply get logistics done: make checklists, look at options and make choices, and delegate work to others. However you do it, just do it!
2. Transfer leadership equity.
Good leaders build better leadership. Like parents who find joy in their children’s progress, a good leader’s ultimate legacy will be the leadership she or he establishes. To create enduring leadership, select the right leader to succeed you who will address what’s next and not just to replicate what you have done. Announce your successor with a focus on what’s next. Send signals of confidence in your successor by appropriately deferring decisions to him or her. Help your successor establish relationships with key individuals you have worked with: make introductions, share confidence, and promote his or her work. Sometimes leaders do farewell tours to thank employees or customers. In a number of cases, the farewell and gratitude were about 40 percent of the agenda and transferring leadership equity to the future leader was 60 percent of the focus. This public support of the next-generation leader enables future success.
3. Embed a couple of key ideas.
Recognize that when you leave, your successors will evolve the organization by making new decisions. Try to embed your good ideas as a platform others will build on rather than an event that was tied to you. Try to not label your idea as “leader X did this in her leadership tenure.” But make your ideas part of the institutional fabric: “we (our organization) does things this way.” A brilliant leader created an innovative planning process that originally was labeled “the leader X way.” At first, she took pride in the recognition for her ideas, but she then quickly realized that if the planning process was labeled after her, her successor could more readily change it. So she worked diligently to label it as “the organization way.” Not all your ideas and innovations will stick or need to, but try to embed a few. Instead of talking about “evolving” ideas (from X to Y), talk about “pivoting” ideas (building on X to get to Y). In embedding your ideas, finding a second voice who can advocate what you sponsor helps. Sharing credit with others for what they have contributed to success will also help.
For example, when I grew up, my father spent a few years building campgrounds. As a result, we camped out frequently. From these outings, “leaving the campsite better than we found it” was deeply instilled in me. This meant removing litter (generally not ours), removing brush, and cleaning the site for the next campers. Likewise, leaders should leave their organization better than they found it. My father embedded this idea (and many others) in me.
4. Celebrate and savor success.
Any ambitious leader has aspirations that exceed resources. This means that not everything you planned or hoped to do is likely to have happened. Those who are driven to succeed too easily lament what they did not accomplish more than celebrate what they did accomplish. Over time, good leaders build on previous work, knowing that others will build on their work. Without being eg0-centric and taking exclusive credit, focusing on what you accomplished and the progress you made can be meaningful. As you do your farewell tour and receive accolades for your service, accept them with grace and positive feelings about what you did and share credit.
5. Manage your emotional energy.
As you look to move on, manage your emotions. You have likely given much of your professional and personal life to your current job, with strong emotional bonds. Each job is a setting for many emotions: happiness, sadness, connection, disappointment, anger, delight, trust, and so forth. Choosing to let go of any specific job as the setting for these emotions requires pivoting your identity from one job or role to the next, spending less time with current colleagues and anticipating future relationships, and discovering enthusiasm in what’s next. Recognize that emotional transitions are often more difficult than physical or social transitions and require your attention as well.
6. Let go; move on.
I have had a couple of leadership succession settings where the leaving leader could not let go. He stayed on the board or was retained as an advisor. This only cast a lingering shadow on his successor. It not only hindered the successor’s ability to create a new agenda, but it limited the leaving leader’s ability to start a new chapter in his personal and professional life.
Transitions require an ending and new beginning. If you are moving to a new role or job, take some time to “end.” In work on endings, Bill Bridges has encouraged leaders to disengage (don’t keep calling back to former colleagues) and disidentify (don’t tie your identity or brand to what you were but to what you are and can be).
The best is yet ahead.
As you look to your last 100 days, keep in mind that the best is yet ahead. I have often coached students and leaders with this question: “What are your best two years or what is your best job?” Often people reflect on some positive previous experience, and I then challenge this assumption. The best two years are the next two. The best job is the next one.
What have you experienced in navigating the last 100 days?