The First 90 Days

The First 90 Days

Michael D. Watkins hit the nail on the head with his book The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter.  When you make a move, the ability to transition and get to the break-even point (where you have contributed the same amount of value you have consumed) as quickly and effectively as possible is critical in your new role.  If you’re taking on a new role, pick up this book.  It’s geared toward those in management, but is great for everyone.  It’s one of the best investments you can make in your growing career.

1. Prepare Yourself

What is the type of transition?

A promotion: You will face a broader range of issues, people, and ideas.  You’ll have more complexity, and potentially some ambiguity.  Politics might be more difficult to navigate.  Communication with your directs and with the front lines will change.  There is increased visibility which leads to greater scrutiny.

A new company: It’s essential to learn about the corporate culture and the company as a whole.  How they do things and see things is likely different.  You have to network and adapt before making changes.

This chapter deals with the complexity of potential issues you’ll face, and details steps you can take to prepare.

2. Accelerate Your Learning

Make sure you are effective as you’re busy learning about your new organization.  Always consider how the organization got to the point it’s at.  Figure out who to go to with your questions.  Know who can provide the most useful insight and who or what can best support your learning as fast as possible.

The chapter details a great learning agenda structure.

3. Match Strategy to Situation

Know where your responsibilities fall within your STARS situation (start up, turnaround, accelerated growth, realignment, or sustaining success), and understand the challenges and opportunities you will be facing.  Understand how this affects your learning agenda.

The chapter details how to understand what situation your organization is facing, and the STARS model (p.72) is invaluable for understanding potential challenges and opportunities in each of the situations you may encounter.

4. Negotiate Success

Think about your relationship and communication style with your new boss.  Work to discuss expectations and your resource needs and figure out what success will look like in your new role.  Consider your own personal development and also your own team’s.  Remember to give your team the same guidance and support you want to receive when you transition.

5. Secure Early Wins

Early wins excite and energize your team, your boss, and everyone else.  They also build your personal credibility.  Make sure you’re focused on promising opportunities, wins that matter to your boss, and getting your wins in a good way that either follows the new culture or helps encourage new values you want to instill.  Avoid the predictable surprises like external environment, customers, markets, competitors, strategy, internal capabilities, and politics.

6. Achieve Alignment

The business structure has to be sound.  Don’t make changes until you understand the core business and the underlying issues.

“Aligning an organization is like preparing for a long sailing trip.  First, you need to be clear on whether your destination (the mission and goals) and your route (the strategy) are the right ones.  Then you can figure out what you need (the structure), how to outfit it (the processes), and which mix of crew members is best (the skill bases).  Throughout the journey, you keep an eye out for reefs that are not on the charts.” (p.146)

7. Build Your Team

Avoid the common traps of criticizing previous leadership or keeping the existing team too long.  Balance stability and change, align both the team and the organization, reassure your top performers that you value their contributions, and do your best to get your team in place before team building or team decisions.

The chapter has a great break down of how to evaluate, incentivize, and inspire your team.

8. Create Alliances

Always identify your supporters (people who share your vision, who have been quietly working for change on a small scale, or who are new to the organization), opponents, and persuadables.  Figure out the intrinsic motivators (like recognition, control, power, relationships, or personal growth) for the people you need to influence and then work to build alliances.

9. Manage Yourself

Times of transition at work can make your feelings or your personal life unsteady.  Make sure you are taking care of yourself, and take care of your support network as well.

10. Accelerate Everyone

The chapter focuses on how you can apply the principles throughout the entire organization.

In Summary…

I can’t stress enough how helpful this book is for transition periods, and my overview can’t do it justice.  Even if you are not a “manager,” you can still be a better leader within your organization.  Set yourself up for success, and take some time to read The First 90 Days.


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