EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of business continuity-related leadership articles from Nita Kohli, exclusively on www.drj.com.

A leader’s success is usually defined within the first 90 days of joining an organization.

There is an unprecedented movement in the job market not previously seen, and more so at the leadership levels between industries, as the ability to work remotely or in a hybrid environment, has opened up opportunities.

It is important one takes the time to become acclimated with the organization and its culture before launching into transformational changes which could destabilize the organization, or even worse, challenge your position as a leader. A well thought through approach to the first 90 days can be the key to success.

While there are a few different leadership styles that exist, I have found it is important to have an adaptable leadership style depending on the situation and the organization. That said, there are many attributes to being a successful leader, and when joining an organization, people will be observing how one interacts, connects, and conducts themselves, listening closely to everything action and word.

Here are 10 tips to success:

  1. Listen and observe – Listen to what people are saying and observe interactions. Don’t feel compelled to come up with solutions in the early days. As one becomes integrated into the organization, information will be forthcoming from many different aspects, take the time to absorb and understand the organization and the people. Great leaders tend to be active listeners, so this would be an absolute must.
  2. Connect at all levels – Meet the leadership team, the staff, internal and external stakeholders, leadership (operating committee and board members). Try to organize “meet and greets” with key people and ask for their perspectives on past and present vision and strategy, what’s working and where they feel improvements are needed. Try and understand specifically what has been working (e.g. people, processes, structure) from each person. While calendars may be a challenge, most people will be open and transparent, as they will be vested in success of the organization. Also, meet with the regulators and the internal audit team as they will be able to provide some valuable perspectives on background and history.
  3. Assess – during the meetings with key stakeholders, try to understand what’s working well and where there are opportunities which need to be addressed. Aim to conduct a gap assessment to help with the development of your strategic plan. This gap assessment will be crucial to map out the strategy and changes which may be needed. The meetings and interactions should contribute to the assessment and as you near conclusion, the discussions may start to confirm some of the initial observations. Be sure to differentiate between tactical and more strategic gaps.
  4. Culture – It’s important to understand the organization’s culture and how receptive the organization is to change. If joining in a transformational leadership position, how change is introduced can be crucial – too much change, too soon without the appropriate mechanisms to support the changes, can be disastrous. Culture across the organization can vary considerably between divisions and between teams so try and promote consistency. Culture is top-down driven and as a leader, staff will be looking for the leader to set the tone.
  5. Develop a 90-day plan – Aim to have a strategy defined at the end of your first 90 days, which not only focuses on technical aspects of the role, but on the people and the organizational structure. This will be the opportunity to discuss the plan and approach to support the changes being proposed.
  6. Socialize the plan – Review and discuss the plan with some of the key stakeholders and listen to their feedback as their buy-in will be needed to provide the support through the organization. Adjust as appropriate.
  7. Communicate – Establish regular communication channels with the staff and your leadership team. Be transparent, to a degree that information can be shared. It is important to maintain clear and regular communication, especially when there is change across the organization.
  8. Be adaptable – Developing a plan within the first 90 days is not necessarily the easiest task. As one gets acclimated within the organization, there will be a constant learning and exposure to areas not within your initial purview. As a result, there may be a need to adapt the plan, strategy and/or approach periodically. It is also necessary to regularly assess the environment, internal and external drivers, which may result in additional changes, or confirm alignment of the strategy and approach. If you changes are warranted, be sure to discuss with the key stakeholders and leadership to get the consensus. And remember to communicate and keep people informed.
  9. Learn from mistakes and others – A strong leader will admit to mistakes and/or failures and use those as future learnings. The best leaders are those who can learn from disruption, whether they be mistakes, failures, crisis, and navigate the organization through these times. Always be willing to learn from these disruptions and use those learnings as opportunities for growth and advancement of the organization. The recent pandemic was a great accelerator of our technology and digital agendas; however, it also helped to identify operational inefficiencies and changes that were needed.
  10. Periodic re-evaluation and ongoing feedback – Finally, remember, the first 90 days is starting point, but periodically seek feedback, review, and adapt. Seeking feedback is a key component to working collaboratively and building coalition. Don’t forget to agree and establish objectives; after all, this will be the basis on how your performance is assessed within the organization.

Let’s not forget, joining an organization at senior level is not easy. It can be even harder without a network within the organization when you join. Emotional intelligence is important at all levels of leadership, so continue to have self awareness, be authentic and continue to exercise your integrity. That will build trust and credibility; success will follow.

Next in the Leadership Series: Effective Leadership.


Nita Kohli

Nita Kohli is an operational resilience executive who is driving to strengthen and mature resiliency capabilities across the industry. She partners with executives, regulators, and industry counterparts to manage robust risk and control frameworks designed to deliver solutions, align core goals, and help lead organizations to manage risk. Kohli has more than 20 years of multi-disciplinary experience within the financial industry. She has held a variety of leadership roles across a multitude of functional areas, including finance, operations, risk, and control. She has driven a number of large-scale business transformations. Kohli’s career spans international work with Deutsche Bank UK, JP Morgan UK/US, and KPMG UK. She is a chartered accountant (ACA) and has a bachelor of science (hon) in mathematics and management from King’s College, University of London.

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