On the one hand, Virginia Rometty’s transition into the CEO role at IBM should be relatively easy. The company is in good shape. She’s been there 30 years, knows everyone, and is getting the job “because she deserves it,” as her predecessor Sam Palmisano put it.

On the other hand, these transitions are never simple.

Rometty needs to keep three things in mind as she puts together and implements her New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan:

  1. The basics always apply;
  2. Things are different when you get promoted from within;
  3. She should consider adjusting her team’s and the organization’s attitude .

The Basics Always Apply

Anyone’s transition into a new leadership role will go smoother if they get a head start, manage their message, and invest in building their team. These are the basics of The New Leader’s Playbook.

Rometty has the opportunity to execute the same three-stage transition that Ajay Banga did so successfully right down the street at MasterCard.

  1. She has two months left in her new role with Sam Palmisano still holding the reins as CEO.
  2. She’ll have a period of time as CEO and Palmisano around as Chairman.
  3. She’ll be in place without Palmisano around.

Rometty must take advantage of the time before her January 1 start date to jumpstart her new relationships. After 30 years in the company, she knows a  lot of people. But no one knows her as CEO. It’s a whole new game, and it’s worth reconnecting with people she knows and meeting new people over the next couple of months.


Things Are Different When You Get Promoted From Within

Larry Page faced a similar situation when he got promoted from within. Our prescription is the same. Rometty needs to keep in mind she cannot control the context, cannot make a clean break and has no honeymoon.

Like Page, Rometty should prepare in advance, especially making sure to secure the resources and support she’ll need going forward. She should take control of her own transition, especially around deciding what to keep the same and what to change. She should accelerate the team’s progress after her start by evolving the strategies first, and then operations and organization.

Attitude Adjustment

Leadership is about inspiring and enabling others to do their absolute best, together, to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. The strongest leaders take a BRAVE approach across Behaviors, Relationships, Attitudes, Values and Environment. New leaders need to assess these dimensions and quickly figure out how to converge and evolve into the organization.

In Rometty’s case, she’s already inside. So it’s all about evolving. Further, it’s likely she’s going to be comfortable with the way the team behaves, its values and environment, and with her relationships with most team members. Inevitably there will be some team members that are detractors. She will have to identify them – especially the covert detractors (but that’s a different issue).

If she is comfortable with all of these, her highest leverage point may be an attitude adjustment. Organizations’ and teams’ attitude or posture must line up with their strategies. Comedy troop Second City’s playful, improvisational approach would be no more appropriate for GE than would be this disciplined, methodical organization’s approach be appropriate for Second City. Even if Rometty and her team choose to stick with the same strategies, behaviors, relationships, and values in the environment they face, they can still up their performance by adjusting their attitude and posture in one way or another. This should be a major part of the discussion as Rometty and her team agree on their new imperative early on in her tenure.

This is a good example of step 6 of The New Leader’s Playbook: Embed a Strong Burning Imperative

The burning imperative is a sharply defined, intensely shared, and purposefully urgent understanding from each of the team members of what they are “supposed to do, now.” Get this created and bought into early on—even if it’s only 90 percent right. You, and the team, will adjust and improve along the way.

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, 3rd edition 2011) and the iPad app New Leader Smart Tools. Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.