One of my first articles for this publication was on Why Preparing in Advance is Priceless: How MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga Planned Ahead for His New Leadership Role. The main point was about the advantages of embracing and leveraging the Fuzzy Front in a new job (the time between the acceptance of the job and his start date).


That article looked at Ajay Banga’s entry into MasterCard as COO and then CEO. Ajay implemented a three-stage plan created by his predecessor, Bob Selander, and the board: Stage 1) Ajay as COO reporting to Bob; Stage 2) Ajay as CEO with Bob still around, and Stage 3) Ajay as CEO with Bob not there.


Looking back on the transition at the time, Ajay said Bob did a “masterful” job at allowing him to settle in and pick up pieces step-by-step without all the external and internal pressures getting dumped on him at the same time.


Throughout, Ajay leveraged his leadership skills in connecting with people. After 13 years at Citibank, he had an insider’s view of the way things worked there. Ajay explained that it “gets in your blood through a sort of reverse osmosis… But at MasterCard, I’m the outsider. So the only way I could get up to speed on the culture, what’s working, what’s not working, our competitive strengths and the like was to invest in listening”.

Thus, he spent a lot of time doing just that. Ajay describes walking into offices at the headquarters, sitting down (or “flopping in a chair”) and saying “I’m Ajay. Tell me about yourself.” or “What can I do to help?” or “What should I not do”. Good start, but not good enough. Then Ajay went out to meet “people outside the big offices,” traveling around the world to visit MasterCard’s country offices to learn about their obstacles and strengths.

Ajay did well. He served as CEO of MasterCard for over a decade. The main ideas in that article still hold. Our prescription is still to leverage the Fuzzy Front end to:

  • Determine your leadership approach given the context and culture you face.
  • Identify key stakeholders: up, across, down, both internally and externally, finding the people that control resources and can help you connect with others that control resources
  • Craft your message: identify the platform for change, a vision of a brighter future, and a call to action; then putting those together into your best current thinking regarding a headline message, key communication points and master narrative that will drive your communication points throughout your start-up. Note this best current thinking will evolve as you learn more. It’s not about getting it 100% right. It’s about getting started.
  • Manage your office setup: make sure someone has put in place everything you need to do real work on day one. This probably includes things like a computer, phone, passwords, ID, office, assistant
  • Manage your personal/family setup: situate yourself and family before you start so you can concentrate on work once you start.
  • Conduct pre-start meetings and phone calls: connect with the most critical stakeholders. This has a huge impact, even bigger than we thought a decade ago. It’s proven to be a game-changer for a lot of people as a way to jump-start relationships before day one. As Brene Brown so eloquently described in her Ted Talk on The Power of Vulnerability, relationships are based on connection and “in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen” – to be vulnerable. Asking people for help with your onboarding before you start is an act of vulnerability.
  • Deploy an information gathering and learning plan: get a half-step ahead of the curve. This is not so much about mastering anything as it is about learning enough to ask intelligent questions during your early days.
  • Plan your Day One, early days, and first 100-Days: start with what you’re going to do before day one, and include a specific plan for day one that reinforces your message, as well as the building blocks of accelerating your team over those first 100-days


Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #792) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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