Carsten Thiel on the Most Crucial Time Period In a New Job
Every four to eight years at the end of April, news publications large and small explore the same topic: What has the new president accomplished in their first 100 days in office? The time period has become a barometer new organizations, political analysts and academics use to appraise how a United States president’s administration is doing. While it may seem in some ways to be an arbitrary milestone, from these first few months in office one can ascertain a president’s management style, what they are prioritizing, and the speed at which they are able to fulfill what was promised on the campaign trail.
The fact of the matter is, the early days of any new position is a unique period of time that holds a lot more power than we often give it credit for. Outside of proving your abilities and strengths to your new team, the first 90 days of a new role are also a wealthy source of information that can be crucial to future success. Companies will often set annual goals and objectives and give periodic performance reviews, but that pivotal period during the beginning isn’t always given the focus it is due.
According to Carsten Thiel, chief executive officer for the oncology and rare disease-focused biopharmaceutical company EUSA Pharma, he has been creating a 90 day plan for himself in every new role he has taken for a long time now. With nearly three decades of experience in the international pharmaceutical industry, Thiel has worked at both massive enterprises and smaller niche businesses, and held a broad range of positions including vice president, head of Europe at Amgen and executive vice president and chief commercial officer at Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
Thiel first learned about the importance of the first 90 days from Kevin Sharer, the longtime chief executive officer of Amgen. He told Carsten that when he first joined the company, he set a goal of spending his first 90 days talking to as many people in the company as possible. He asked them: “What are you hoping I will do for the company? What are you hoping I will change? What are you afraid I might do or change? What would you like me to preserve in the organization?
Sharer made good on his word, speaking to over 100 people in his first three months as chief executive officer. According to Thiel, taking the time to sit down for half an hour to an hour, and sometimes even longer, with individuals across the hierarchy of the company gave him a profound impression. His finger was placed directly on the pulse of the organization, an opportunity that would have been lost had he waited six months or a year before starting. Since learning of this from Sharer, Thiel has made a point of beginning every new leadership position similarly. “For me, in those 90 days, I am able to get a real understanding of the organization. What people feel, what are their hopes, their expectations, but also their fears?” said Thiel. “I have almost always been surprised by what I am hearing.”
Thiel’s 90 day plan is a solid example of how an executive can quickly discern how to serve his teams and the organization he has joined best, but developing a game plan for the beginnings of a new position isn’t exclusively worthwhile to leaders. Anybody can benefit from gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges that the company or department they joined is trying to solve, and how their puzzle piece fits into the bigger goals of the organization. A 90 day plan can help sharpen a person’s focus, identifying the goals, priorities, and metrics that will create positive results.
One of the first things that can be identified to help create a 90 day plan are the overall priorities for the position. All specific goals and metrics can be derived from what can be considered your purpose: why were you ultimately hired for the role? Often in mid- and high-level positions you are brought in to solve a particular problem or head a specific project, but even when the directive is clear it is important to also look inward and identify your personal feelings on the job. What value do you feel that your unique experience and skill sets can add to the role, and how can you best apply those? These can be used as a compass to guide further planning.
Asking questions can be difficult for some people; even when we are in a brand new company or role we often want to appear as if we have all the answers, and this can be especially true the higher we ascend the totem pole. However, asking questions is an imperative part of the process of developing a 90 day plan. Regardless of what you were told in the interview process and any orientation, upon arriving at a new role there will inevitably be gaps in your knowledge. In order to create an ambitious plan that exceeds expectations, get comfortable with asking questions. You can even flat-out ask “what can I do in my first 90 days that will help me make the biggest impact, now?”
The first 90 days are also crucial because they set the tone for the relationships you will have with your team members. In their executive-level roles, Sharer and Thiel take an expansive company-wide approach to this, meeting with as many people as possible to establish a strong connection with the organization as a whole, but even in roles that are lower down the totem pole one-on-one time with important players can lead to insights much quicker than if they were developed later in the game. Make sure to take the time to get to know them as people in addition to learning more about their role in relation to you and the company.
Of course these early days are also crucial to understand the views of your chairman, board members and your executive team. It is inevitable that you hear diverging or even opposing views and may feel overwhelming to piece it all together to a coherent picture. That’s okay. Once you have gathered this information and you are aware of the culture, challenges and opportunities in your organization, it is time to articulate a vision with long term goals and to get some short term wins. That will create trust that your listening has made an impression and triggered action.
Finally, even with a crisp and actionable 90 day plan, prepare mentally for surprises and keep communicating openly. Even with all of the preparation in the world there will be curveballs that take your plan off course, and the best thing that you can do is anticipate this and remain flexible. Asking and being receptive to feedback is a simple way to course-correct as you go, and signifies that you are not rigid in your aspirations for the position.
Carsten Thiel said that he considers the lesson taught to him by Sharer has been the most important one he has learned throughout his entire career. We all want to make a good first impression when starting a new role, making a splash and impressing our teams right off the bat. It can be easy to say what our long-term goals are for a new job, but it is equally as important to pay extra attention to those early days in order to use them to their full advantage.