Michael Brune took control of his first day as executive director of the Sierra Club last March. At least he took control of the things he could control.  While he was not able to alter his 18-month-old son’s sleep habits the night before so he could be well-rested, he did use available media to  start communicating his message at work immediately – a critical component of transition management.


Owning Day One

As Brune explained to me in a phone interview, he took time out before he started to research the organization’s history and think through what he wanted to get done on first day, first week, and first month.

“Since I knew I was going to go deep underwater, I wanted to have just a couple of big priorities that I wanted to stick to for at least the first month…Having those touchstones helped me to bring a little bit of order into the chaos of starting a new job.”

Those touchstones included:

    1. Being more solutions oriented.  “For years we’d been good at stopping (bad) things.”  Now it seemed to be important to help move good things forward on “symbolic and substantive ways”.
  1. Pull out what our bottom lines were” – the things on which they could not compromise on as a way to provide a backstop beyond which we could not go.
  2. Modernize the club, utilizing technology and polishing the brand to be more energetic, etc.


On his first day, Brune wrote in his blog:

Today’s my first day. I’m inspired and honored to be a part of such a
democratically-governed, volunteer-powered organization. From helping to protect Yosemite and millions of acres of wilderness to the more recent work of building powerful alliances with labor and impacted communities, Sierra Club volunteers and staff have played a pivotal role in many of the most important environmental victories over the past century.

But as effective as the organization has been over the past 118 years, we need to do our best work in the years ahead. The challenges — and opportunities — are too great.”  Read more: http://sierraclub.typepad.com/michaelbrune/page/4/#ixzz1DemeeDrv

Michael did several things right:

  • He switched his identity and allegiance instantly, talking about himself as part of his new organization.
  • He credited his predecessors and current team, telling people he hoped to follow their examples and build on their “victories.”
  • He started driving his message and communication points with what he said and what he did, wearing his own passion for the environment on his sleeve.
  • He started by listening instead of “talking, pontificating, declaring”.  His first morning he met with his executive team to get an update what they were doing and connect with work they’d already done.  He learned where they thought the organization was strong and where they thought it needed help.
  • Then, next, after listening to the executive team and taking that in, he had an all-staff, multi-office meeting to introduce himself to all and lay out his own initial observations about places needing attention


How to Plan Ahead for Day One

As you plan your own day one, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • It is personal. As a leader, you impact peoples’ lives. Those people will try very hard to figure out you and your potential impact as soon as they can. They may even rush to judgment. Keep that in mind at all times.
  • Order counts. Be circumspect about the order in which you meet with people and the timing of when you do what throughout Day One and your early days.
  • Messages matter. Have a message. Know what you are going to say and not say. Have a bias toward listening. Know that strong opinions, long-winded introductions and efforts to prove yourself immediately are rarely, if ever good Day One tactics. People will be looking to form opinions early. Keep that in mind while deciding when to listen, when to share, what to ask, who to ask, and how you answer. When speaking keep it brief, on point and meaningful.
  • Location counts. Think about where you will show up for work on Day One. Do not just show up at your designated office by default.
  • Signs and symbols count. Be aware of all the ways in which you communicate, well beyond just words.
  • Timing counts. Day One does not have to match the first day you get paid. Decide which day you want to communicate as Day One to facilitate other choices about order and location. (From The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan)

This is a good example of step 4 of The New Leader’s PlaybookTake Control of Day One: Make a Powerful First Impression

Everything is magnified on Day One, whether it’s your first day in a new company, or the day of a big announcement. Everyone is looking for hints about what you think and what you’re going to do. This is why it’s so important to seed your message by paying particular attention to all the signs, symbols, and stories you deploy, and the order in which you deploy them. Make sure people are seeing and hearing things that will lead them to believe and feel what you want them to believe and feel about you and about themselves in relation to the future of the organization.

Click here to read about each step in the playbook

Click here for YouTube videos highlighting each step


The New Leader’s Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months. George Bradt is PrimeGenesis’ managing director, and co-author of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, 2009). Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.