Make time in your early days at a new job to get alignment around a burning imperative -- mission, vision, values, objectives, goals, strategies and plans. Experienced, successful leaders inevitably say that getting people aligned around a vision and values, and focused on urgent business matters, are the most important things they have to do -- and often the most difficult during their first 100 days.
The burning imperative is a clear, sharply defined, intensely shared and purposefully urgent understanding from all of the team members of what they are "supposed to do, now" and how this Burning Imperative works with the larger aspirations of the team and the organization.
The burning imperative must have a shorthand summary or headline -- most likely containing a strong, action-oriented verb. This is a brief statement, or tagline, that reminds team members of the entire range of work -- from mission through strategy to plans, and the statements behind each step -- and specifically of their commitments and responsibilities in relation to that work. For example, "Establish a burning imperative by day 30."
A burning imperative is different from a shared purpose. The difference between the two is timing, intensity and duration. John Lawler one of the co-authors of The New Leader's 100-Day Action Plan puts it this way:
The shared purpose drives the long term while your Burning Imperative drives the next phase of activity, now, on the way to the long term.
Not everyone agrees on how fast you should move to get this in place. The argument for stretching out this process is that the risks of picking the wrong Burning Imperative are greater than the risks of moving too slowly. There have certainly been cases where this has been true. If things are going well, there's less urgency to change things.
However, failing to build momentum early can create problems of its own. If some negative external factor intervenes before you have started to move forward (e.g., you lose a key customer or a vital team member leaves), you may fall into a debacle. We all have seen that the pace of change is accelerating as information flows more and more freely. In that environment, even if things are going well, competitors are going to converge rapidly on your position.
You need to move quickly. Today, it is better to get moving and adapt as appropriate. How fast should you move on this? Fast. Get this in place by the end of your first 30 days.
The burning imperative consists of:
Headline: The all-encapsulating phrase or tagline that defines your Burning Imperative.
Mission: Why here, why exist, what business are you in?
Vision: Future picture -- what you want to become; where are you going?
Values: Beliefs and moral principles that guide and underpin attitudes, relationships and behaviors.
Objectives: Broadly defined, qualitative performance requirements.
Goals: The quantitative measures of the objectives that define success.
Strategies: Broad choices around how the team will achieve its objectives.
Plans: The most important projects and initiatives that will bring each strategy to fruition.
Operating Cadence: How the team is going to implement, track and evolve plans, together.
The burning imperative is the pivot point for the new leader's first 100 days. Once this is established, the team moves into creating and leveraging the next wave of tactical capacity building blocks -- milestone management, early wins, role sort and evolution of leadership, practices and culture.
For the burning imperative to drive everything everyone actually does every day, it must be truly embraced by all. Thus, you need to get it in place and shared early on -- within your first 30 days at the latest.
Note some have found it valuable to pivot off the new year to hit restart buttons with their teams. A good way to do that is to rethink the components of your burning imperative so all are aligned around a clear, sharply defined, intensely shared, and purposefully urgent understanding of what they are "supposed to do, now" to make this year a success.
Note this is the fifth of eight articles highlighting key points from each of the eight chapters of the upcoming fourth edition of The New Leader's 100-Day Action Plan.