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How Government Leaders Can Drive Change in the First 100 Days

Two Washington Veterans Explain How Leaders Can Lay the Foundation for Success in a New BCG Report

WASHINGTON, DC -- (Marketwire) -- 11/29/12 -- The first 100 days are a make-or-break period for any government leader. That reality will be evident in the weeks ahead as the Obama administration seeks to make a series of critical appointments for the second term. A new report from The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) outlines the key steps any leader should take to ensure success during that crucial period. The report, titled Your First 100 Days: Starting Strong as a New Leader in U.S. Government, is being released today.

Leaders who make the right moves in their initial 100 days establish credibility and momentum, while those who get off to a rocky start often never recover. The authors offer guidelines for making the most of this honeymoon period based on insights from dozens of former senior officials, CEOs, and top military leaders. The recommendations include moving quickly to understand the dynamics of the organization, building a strong team, and focusing relentlessly on the objectives and changes you want to deliver.

"The average tenure of a political appointee is only about two years," said Michèle Flournoy, a senior advisor to BCG and a coauthor of the report, who served as the under secretary of defense for policy in the Department of Defense from 2009 to 2012. "Getting off to a rough start -- whether by moving too slowly or too aggressively -- can be a costly, even irreversible, misstep."

"If you want to make bold changes, you need to move in that first 100-day period, when you have maximum leverage," said Margaret Spellings, the other coauthor of the report and a senior advisor to BCG, who served as the secretary of education from 2005 to 2009.

Focus on Leadership

Making the most of that 100-day period requires a combination of effective analytical, leadership, and management skills.

  • Prepare yourself. The clock starts ticking the moment you are nominated. Frankly assess your own strengths, weaknesses, and leadership style. Also identify a few trusted advisors who will provide you with perspective and support.
  • Once in office, take time to really get to know the organization -- how it functions, how it is perceived by stakeholders, and where you can tap sources of reliable information within the ranks.
  • Build an effective leadership team that integrates both political appointees and civil servants, who are a tremendous source of institutional knowledge.
  • Set an agenda -- the objectives and priorities you want to achieve -- and mobilize your organization to make the journey with you. Don't be afraid to make a few big bets early on in your tenure: Which fights do you want to take on -- or avoid?
  • Create a culture that reflects your values and encourages the right behaviors, everything from how decisions are made to how people treat one another.
  • Communicate your vision constantly and consistently. And remember that people need to hear something at least nine times before it sticks.

In order to execute on all these levels at once, leaders must be vigilant about guarding their most precious asset: time. "People will infer a leader's true priorities from how they actually spend their time," said Spellings. "Delegate what others can do, and make room for your priorities."

Lastly, new leaders must pace themselves. "New leaders must remember that they are running a marathon, not a sprint, though occasionally they will have to run intervals," said Flournoy. "They must pace themselves for the long haul and lock in time on the calendar for the little things that recharge their batteries."

A copy of the report can be downloaded at www.bcgperspectives.com.

To arrange an interview with one of the authors, please contact Eric Gregoire at +1 617 850 3783 or gregoire.eric@bcg.com.

About The Boston Consulting Group
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a global management consulting firm and the world's leading advisor on business strategy. We partner with clients from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors in all regions to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and transform their enterprises. Our customized approach combines deep insight into the dynamics of companies and markets with close collaboration at all levels of the client organization. This ensures that our clients achieve sustainable competitive advantage, build more capable organizations, and secure lasting results. Founded in 1963, BCG is a private company with 77 offices in 42 countries. For more information, please visit bcg.com.

About bcgperspectives.com
Bcgperspectives.com is a new website -- available on PC, mobile phone, and iPad -- that features the latest thinking from BCG experts as well as from CEOs, academics, and other leaders. It covers issues at the top of senior management's agenda. It also provides unprecedented access to BCG's extensive archive of thought leadership stretching back almost 50 years to the days of Bruce Henderson, the firm's founder and one of the architects of modern management consulting. All of our content -- including videos, podcasts, commentaries, and reports -- can be accessed via PC, mobile, iPad, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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