2 min read

The First 90 Days

The first 90 days, by Michael Watkins, is a very useful read for anyone making a transition into a new organization.  I'm listening to it for the second time since I'll be making a transition very soon. While the book focuses on leaders starting in a new role, it is useful for an employee at any level seeking to understand the way things work in a new organization.

  1. There are four types of situations according to a STARS model:  Startup, Turaround, Accelerated Growth, Realignment and Sustaining Success.  Each require a different approach.
  2. Startup: Decisive Decision making needed (hunter mentality rather than farmer mentality).  Use the shoot, then aim approach.  The energy is excited chaos, and your role is to make calls on what not to do.  Climb quickly up the technical learning curve, political learning curve is less critical here. Take the offensive approach on the product and market.
  3. Turnaround: Decisive Decision making needed (also hunter mentality).  Shoot, then aim approach.  Morale may be low here, but people are aware that change is needed. This means you can make changes by using the plan-then-implement approach (rather than the collective learning approach).  Take the defensive approach on the product and market.  Pare down to critical elements of the product and secure that as a base first, then go after more marketshare.
  4. Realignment: Collaborative decision making is needed (farmer mentality).  You have more time to assess the situation here, so aim carefully before firing.  The Political learning curve is critical here, so set aside time to climb up this curve. People are not aware that change is needed, so to make change, you need to use the collective learning approach.  Help people become aware that change is needed, and collaborate to create a plan for change that everyone is bought into.  You may take an offensive or defensive approach on the product and market depending on the situation.
  5. Sustaining Success: Collaborative decision making is needed (farmer mentality).  You have more time to assess the situation here so it is an aim and fire approach.  Spend time to climb the political learning curve so you can assert the right influence to get things done.  Measuring success is tricky here, since it's more incremental successes rather than "splash" success.  Set expectations with management accordingly.  Take a defensive approach to the product and market, make sure you secure existing marketshare and keep the organizing moving forwards, not backwards.

This book goes into more detail than above on general issues to consider during the transition. Here are some more highlights:

  • Mentally promote yourself before starting on the role.  Think through how your relationships with others in the org changes because of the change. This is especially important for an internal transition, as alliances and friendships may shift as a result of this transition.
  • Related to above, think through the functional scope of your new role.  If you are transitioning from specific-area manager to general management, you may not be able to rely on domain expertise for your future position.  Consider this, and consider how your strengths and weaknesses help or impair your future path.
  • Take 100% ownership of your relationship with the boss.  Set the meetings, bring the agenda, build the bridge.
  • Understand whether the organization values team vs individual accomplishments, and which is considered a win.

Here is a slideshare deck also that further summarizes the book's concepts.  This is a great read if you are going through or about to go through a transition.  Don't miss it!

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