Things they don’t tell you about your first 100 days

EJC Directors past and present (plus a semi-photobombing Chairman of the Board) at the News Impact Summit in Amsterdam. Photo by Willem Sluyterman van Loo

My first 100 days as European Journalism Centre director are over. The result? A blueprint for the year that I’m really proud of.

This process started back on November 15 2016. Since then I’ve written over 20 blogposts opening our transformational process and my attempts to get to grips with this new role. I’ve learnt some lessons along the way, most of them entirely unexpected.

You’re going to make mistakes. Lots of them.

No doubt I’ve overstepped, moved too fast on some things (and too slow on others), not followed protocol, been too casual, been too formal, and made promises that I’ve not upheld. I’ve made jokes that have been taken ultra seriously, and taken many light remarks far too deeply to heart.

In every instance in which I’ve been called out, issues have been resolved. Part of this process was about being open and approachable — that benefits leaders in the long-term too.

Read: Five mistakes I made in my first week at EJC

Not changing things is as important as changing things.

Issuing a survey to the whole team was one of the best things I did. Deliberately open questions asking what to keep, what to kill, what we stand for and what we don’t. Change seems inevitable where new leadership comes in. But the rate and scale of that change is in your hands, and some things need to remain untouchable.

Read: 13 things the EJC team told me not to change
I asked the EJC what needed to change and they didn’t pull any punches

You need to be really careful what you say.

Quick takeaways: Don’t joke about changing the name of your new organisation in a team meeting. Don’t mention “scale” without really defining it. Be careful to include everyone’s projects when talking about the organisation. There are more.

Everyone is watching you, but you also need to speak naturally and passionately about what you believe. So be careful, but not too careful…

Read: There are two types of scale, but we almost never talk about the second one

It gets lonely (and that’s where your plan is vital).

At various times, I felt like I was floating in space and like I was on a train without a driver. Your plan is your north star, and whether you come up with diagrams, a schedule or a giant to-do list, you need to make sure to reorientate yourself regularly.

Immediately after my first board meeting (for which we’d all worked so hard) I hit a real low in terms of my own energy. But getting out to Paris to a News Impact Summit and then Zimbabwe to witness our media development work first hand got me back in the zone.

Read: Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space

Defining company culture is easier than you think.

Culture defines itself. You just need to ask people questions.

Read: Defining company culture is easy

Shock! Horror! People will talk to you.

Honestly, I didn’t think many people would read this blog series. But enough people read one or more posts and reached out — new potential partners, people who wanted to share ideas and some just to offer solidarity — to make the whole endeavour worth it. Many have told me they’re going to apply some of my ideas to their own workplaces. That’s great and is a wonderful, unexpected byproduct of the whole process.

Read: What comes first, culture or change?

Quick wins will matter (but fade fast).

Getting a few points on the board early on is a great idea. Some of our best decisions on revamping communications have been relatively painless and didn’t cost much (hello Basecamp).

But you burn through these pretty fast. Then you are faced with only the rock-and-a-hard-place decisions. For these, there is no right answer and the only wrong answer is hesitation and indecision. For these decisions, you need your strategy. It removes friction and emotion from the equation and — if the whole team is bought in — builds momentum.

Read: It’s all about the quick wins

Starting at a new organisation is both a marathon and a sprint.

A 100 days agenda is an attempt to run a marathon and a sprint at the same time. It sets out clear long-term goals, and then an ambitious timetable of interviews, meetings, surveys and activities that gather the goals to get you there. You’ll need both speed and stamina to get there. Good luck!

Read: Starting at a new organisation has to be a marathon and a sprint. Here’s why…

My first 100 days is over. Thanks to everyone who helped along the way. So, what’s next?

Really, we’re just getting started. We have our 2017 vision and strategy in place, but now’s the time to make it happen. Time to build another 100 day plan, methinks… watch this space.