Joanne Conroy, MD


When is the honeymoon over?

As a new leader for an organization, the honeymoon is over when you begin to change things.

Let’s admit it…the board hired you. They picked you out of a broad slate of candidates. There were things about you or your background that set you apart.  But once you begin to change how the organization is structured, you start to affect people your board members  have worked with for years and then the resistance begins.

The honeymoon period is believed to be the one time that a new CEO has as an open playing field. It is the point at which we need to be prepared to make major changes, particularly if brought in as an outsider.  In that period, lots of information needs to assimilated. You have to gain control over a new environment, get to know the various constituencies, and select key lieutenants, the people who will help make it happen. You may also have to deal with what I call “wounded princes,” executives who had hoped to get the job. You have often been brought into the organization on a “change” agenda….but change is always risky.

I would argue that the honeymoon is not a time that you have free reign, but the time you have to establish a relationship and level of trust with the board and your leadership team. You do want the majority of the team to understand and be supportive of the changes you make. By engaging more people in the conversations about the changes you are making, you can avoid some mistakes and refine the messaging to the organization.

Regardless of the desire for change…no one really likes that much change or change that feels like it is happening too quickly. Everyone has a cadence in mind about how quickly change needs to take place. You just have to figure that out. You have to pay attention to explicit and implicit messages. Your board will be wondering if they hired the right person. Your new team is wondering what you will be like to work for. People are wondering if they can trust you, and you are wondering how you can quickly show them that you know what you are doing. Here are some tips:

1. Start strong

  • Be conscientious and diligent. …from the first day, and then every day.
  • Consider the legacy you want to build in this new role.

2. Don’t lose sight of the big picture!

  • Don’t ignore the longer term strategy by just fighting fires the first 90 days.
  • Take advantage of the fact that you have an outsider’s perspective…write down your thoughts. You will quickly lose this important perspective.

 3. Focus on yourself and develop good habits

  • Plan to develop relationships…set up a system.
  • Take care of yourself…go to the gym…do more than work.
  • Remember your day-to-day impact and your reputation. Keep it professional.

4. Be a willing student….ask questions

  • Ask for help … involve others in helping ensure your (and therefore their) success.
  • Ask intelligent questions that demonstrate you’re listening and learning. Don’t try to be the smartest person in the room.
  • Follow the thread…understand how and why things happen the way they do before you start making changes. It will be easier to communicate why change is needed if you acknowledge the history.

5. Provide care and attention to your team

  • Build a relationship with your team…leadership changes are unsettling.
  • Establish trust and confidence quickly.
  • Be transparent and allow people to align with your expectations.

6. Make time to build relationships

  • Internally and externally….it is all about managing people and expectations.

So…there is no protected honeymoon period. On day 1 or day 91, you still have to capture the minds and heart of the people who you are relying on to operate differently in order to bring about the change. Success is rarely about having the right answer…it is about creating change that is effected with and by the people in your organization.