Everything is magnified on any CEO’s first day. If being CEO is like living in a fishbowl (which it is), day one is the day when the lights are turned up full and everyone gathers around the bowl for their first glimpse into the future.
But, given all that’s happened at Hewlett-Packard (H.P.) over the past several years, that analogy doesn’t even begin to depict the scrutiny that Meg Whitman is going to receive as she onboards on her first day as its new CEO. (Follow this link for more on why Whitman’s predecessor, Leo Apotheker joined the 40% of senior executives that fail in their first 18 months)
Everything Whitman says, everything she does, everything she doesn’t say and everything she doesn’t do will get dissected, bisected, trisected, and pieced back together by all sorts of different people in all sorts of different ways. Thus, it is especially important that Whitman take control of day one and keep several things in mind.
1) It is personal. As the CEO, Whitman will have a huge impact on H.P. employees’ lives. These people will try hard to figure out her, and her potential impact, as soon as they can. They may even rush to judgment.
2) Order counts. Whitman needs to be circumspect about the order in which she meets with people and the timing of when she does what throughout day one and her first week.
3) Messages matter. Whitman staked out her message in her first press conference:
Deliver the world-class products, solutions, and services our customers have come to expect from H.P.… to get H.P. back on track.
Even in a tough turnaround situation like this, Whitman needs to have a bias toward listening. As Mark Hubbard, one of my business partners used to say, “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Whitman may not have done a perfect job connecting with people during her campaign for governor of California. She needs to really focus on connecting with people at H.P.
4) Location counts. Whitman needs to think about where she will show up for work on day one. Hint: it shouldn’t be her designated office by default.
5) Signs and symbols count. Whitman must be aware of all the ways in which she communicates, verbally and nonverbally. Think BRAVE: Behaviors, Relationships, Attitudes, Values and Environment. In her case, H.P.’s people are going to be on the lookout for a couple of things in particular:
– Trust and respect for individuals
– Focus on a high level of achievement and contribution
– Uncompromising integrity
– Achieving common objectives through teamwork
– Flexibility and innovation
(By the way, these five are the core components of the HP way.)
6) Timing counts. Day one does not have to match the first day Whitman gets paid or the day after she is announced. Whitman should decide which day she wants to communicate as day one to facilitate other choices about order and location.
This is a good example of step 4 of The New Leader’s Playbook: Take 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 your new role is announced. 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 what you want them to believe about you and about themselves in relation to the future of the organization.