A few years ago, we published an article about leadership during a CEO’s first 100 days in office. We had in mind the ambitious list of actions Franklin D. Roosevelt undertook during his initial three months as U.S. president. Once again, Roosevelt’s first 100 days is in the public’s consciousness as Barack Obama assumes the presidency of the United States and the whole world faces the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
The gravity of the current economic downturn is pressuring CEOs everywhere to act decisively and immediately. Just how much can—or should—be accomplished in three or even six months is debatable, however. Nevertheless, we remain convinced that a new CEO’s first 100 days in office is a vital period in which to communicate strong leadership and a clear agenda. We also believe that it is critical for all CEOs to spend the early months of a crisis at the frontline with customers and employees, discussing and refining a set of actions to be implemented over the next year.
Even leaders who are fortunate enough to head companies that seem to have escaped the worst of the storm—at least for now—should seize the moment and use the crisis to make hard decisions that might have been unthinkable in more placid times. The 100-day—or even a 200-day—formula could be the mantra that will help an organization accept change.
In our Collateral Damage series, The Boston Consulting Group has been exploring the issue of company leadership during the initial months of an economic crisis. In addition, we’ve been conducting discussions with more than 50 CEOs—leaders of consumer and retail companies in the United States, Europe, and Asia—to discover what is on their minds as they look out to the year ahead. What do they intend to do differently as a result of the economic downturn? What actions have they moved to the top of their agendas?
All these CEOs acknowledged the need to do what is necessary to get costs under control, of course. But many also took pains to stress their conviction—learned from their own experiences with past downturns—that leadership in a recession is not just about cutting costs. It is also about readying the organization for the future. With that in mind, we spotlight here the ten actions cited most often by the CEOs we’ve been talking to.