Mind Your Failings“In Search of Failure.” That’s the title of chapter seven in Frederick Reichheld’s book The Loyalty Effect.  In that chapter, Reichheld points out that an investor who built a stock portfolio out of the companies profiled in the book In Search of Excellence (Peters and Waterman) would have seen their returns trounced by the mediocre performance of the S&P index during the ten year period following the book’s 1982 publication. In fact, by time Reichheld’s book came out in 1996 only one-fifth of the original companies profiled as “excellent” had remained excellent. If success breeds success, how in the world did those companies lose their lofty status?

In Reichheld’s opinion what really helps us to achieve excellence is actually the study of failure. It’s not exactly in our nature to seek out failure though; in fact, your career path is probably linked to success.  And yet, about 40 percent of new executive hires fail within their first 18 months, according to Forbes.  If four out of ten of us are failing in our new roles, it’s easy to see how excellent organizations quickly lose their status.

The “onboarding” process for every new leader typically calls for them to outline their first 100-day action plan.  In fact, these plans are supposed to be a road map for taking charge quickly and effectively during the transition period.

So what’s the problem?  Are road maps out of date, or are we building them wrong?

Over the past five years I’ve put together three 100-day action plans as I’ve transitioned into different roles.  The following list is not intended to be comprehensive, but it does represent some key factors I’ve found to be linked to a successful start.

1. “Once I’ve been in the position for three months, what will I have to do to hear you say; well done, great job, I like what I’m seeing!”  I always ask that question before I accept the assignment. I want to know upfront exactly what early results my boss is looking for. Too often executives do a lot of work in the first 100 days without accomplishing the one or two things that their bosses are really looking for.

2. Connect, connect, and connect early. Before starting a new assignment, in fact during the interviewing and scoping process, I reach out and connect to all constituents on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.  I read their blogs and use this time to build trust, credibility and rapport with everyone who may be involved with my assignment. Too often executives fail to build trust and rapport early in the game with the people they’ll need to get buy-in from.

3. Accelerate.  Almost every organization is really working from a sequence of short-term plans, so it’s disastrous for an executive to think they have six, nine, or 12 months to get up to speed.  You need to accelerate the learning curve as fast as you can in order to understand the market, products, systems and culture.  That’s exactly why managers should be lifelong learners.

The goals of your plan do need to be realistic and based on the current state of the company. The plan also needs to be updated as you acquire new information and gain a better understanding of what you’ve walked into. This is not to say you are going to solve all the problems in the first 100 days with your documented plan. But, first impressions and beginning momentum are important to moving the company in a new direction, and all plans have to start somewhere.

Alan See is the Chief Marketing Officer at Alan See CMO Temps, LLC. He has written this guest post for the Networking Exchange Blog.