Doing the First 90 Days
“I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.” ? Jerome K. Jerome
Have you read The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins?
Maybe you’ve you read The First 90 Days, but the real question is, how do you “do” The First 90 Days?
The First 90 Days is basically a survivor’s guide for leaders in how to hit the ground running when they start a new job. Rather than “sink or swim”, it’s a systematic way to survive and thrive in your new role.
The beauty is, The First 90 Days really helps you thrive on the job whether you are new to the job, or have had the job for a while. It helps whether you lead teams or are a one-man band. It’s one of the best books that demystifies what it means to be effective in terms of self-leadership, team-leadership, and organizational leadership. It’s the corporate warrior’s playbook for success.
I planned to share what I’ve learned in applying The First 90 Days at Microsoft at our book club at work, affectionately named, “Tribal Word.” I didn’t get to attend, because I’m in the thick of things and living The First 90 Days
I figured that what I put together would be helpful for a broader audience, so here is my playbook for actually putting The First 90 Days into practice. It’s my cheat sheets and my notes on how to turn it into action.
Note that even with my cheat sheet, I still need to regularly dive deep into the book so I can really understand the “why”, the “how”, the “when” and make the most of the habits and practices. It’s a powerful framework that takes a lot of practice to really learn how to do well. The good news is the framework is a friend for life and will serve you well.
The Five Propositions
According to Michael Watkins, the five fundamental propositions form the foundation of the approach to transition acceleration:
- The root causes of transition failure always lie in a pernicious interaction between the situation, with its opportunities and pitfalls, and the individual, with his or her strengths and vulnerabilities.
- There are systematic methods that leaders can employ to both lessen the likelihood of failure and reach the breakeven point faster.
- The overriding goal in a transition is to build momentum by creating virtuous cycles that build credibility and by avoiding getting caught in vicious cycles that damage credibility.
- Transitions are a crucible for leadership development and should be managed accordingly.
- Adoption of a standard framework for accelerating transitions can yield big returns for organizations.
The 90 Day Plan
This is my distillation of the 90 Day Plan. I like to have a bird’s-eye view. Here it is:
Notice the key theme: Priorities, Goals, Milestones, Outputs, and your manager’s feedback. That’s the hart of the plan and it helps you stay grounded, identify wins, and chart your progress against a meaningful map.
To be effective in applying The First 90 Days, you need to know what the backbone of The First 90 Days actually is. According to Michael Watkins, the backbone of The First 90 Days is:
- Promote Yourself
- Accelerate Your Learning
- Match Strategy to Situation
- Secure Early Wins
- Negotiate Success
- Achieve Alignment
- Build Your Team
- Create Coalitions
- Keep Your Balance
- Expedite Everyone
The formula is a powerful one. Basically, you are learning the lay of the land, while creating momentum, and making impact. This sets the stage for your credibility, as well as forces you to build effective relationships within your ecosystem.
Here is a map of the key practices, according to Michael Watkins. I use the map to help remind me how to implement The First 90 Days, and to check where I’m at in terms of applying proven practices for effectiveness on the job:
|1. Promote Yourself||Establish a clear breakpoint
Assess your vulnerabilities
Watch out for your strengths
Relearn how to learn
Rework your network
|2. Accelerate Your Learning||Define your learning agenda
Identify the best sources of insight
Create a learning plan
|3. Match Strategy to Situation||Diagnose the business situation
Understand the history
Identify challenges and opportunities
Lead with the right skills
Focus your energy
Diagnose your portfolio
Adopt 4-D Development (managerial functions, geographic regions, career cross-roads, and STARS business situations)
|4. Secure Early Wins||Avoid common traps
Make waves of change
Establish long-term goals
Focus on business priorities and behavioral changes
Define your A-team priorities
Secure early wins
Leverage “teachable moments”
Secure tangible results
Launch pilot projects
Elevate change agents
Avoid predictable surprises
|5. Negotiate Success||Plan for 5 conversations (situational diagnosis, expectations, style, resources, and personal development)
Don’t trash the past
Don’t stay away
Don’t surprise your boss
Don’t approach your boss only with problems
Don’t run down your checklist
Don’t try to change the boss
Take 100% responsibility for making the relationship work
Clarity mutual expectations early and often
Negotiate timelines for diagnosis and action planning
Aim for early wins in areas important to the boss
Pursue good marks from those whose opinions your boss respects
|6. Achieve Alignment||Design organizational architecture (strategy, structure, systems, skills, and culture)
Identify misalignments (skills and strategy, systems and strategy, structure and systems)
Avoid common traps
|7. Build Your Team||Assess your existing team
Align goals, incentives, and measures
Establish new team processes
|8. Create Coalitions||Map the influence landscape
Identify supporters, opponents, and convincibles
Use the tools of persuasion
Sequence to build momentum
|9. Keep Your Balance||Take stock
Avoid vicious cycles
Aim for self-efficacy (adopt success strategies, enforce personal disciplines, build your support systems)
Build your advice and counsel network (technical advisors, cultural interpreters, and political counselors)
|10. Expedite Everyone||Create a common language (STARS model, agenda for technical, cultural, and political learning, five conversations about situation, expectations, style, resources, and personal development, A-item priorities, goals for behavior change and ideas for early wins, priorities for strengthening their advice-and-counsel network)
Develop high-potential leaders
Bring in people from the outside
Use performance-support tools
My Favorite Practices
There are a lot of practices to learn and absorb. If I reflect on the ones that I use the most for the greatest impact, they boil down to this:
- STARS (Start-up, Turnaround, Realignment, Sustaining Success)
- The Five Conversations (situation diagnosis, expectations, style, resources, personal development
- Build your advice and counsel network (technical advisers, cultural interpreters, and political counselors)
- Identify challenges and opportunities
- Secure early wins
- Setting up action-forcing events
- Identifying supporters, opponents, and convincibles
- Leverage “teachable moments”
- Make waves of change
- Structured reflection
As you can see, there is a lot of synergy across the practices. When you read The First 90 Days, be sure to pay extra attention to the language of STARS and think of it in terms of a lens across people, process, and product. Each of those can be a in a very different situation, and the better you understand the landscape, the more effective you can operate. For example, if you think that the product is in a Start-Up, but others think of it as a re-alignment, that can cause some serious problems in your effectiveness. Once you understand the lay of the land, you can better bridge where things are, with where you would like things to be.
Be sure to check out The First 90 Days as a way to change your game and improve your workplace effectiveness.
If you have any stories or insights from applying The First 90 Days, I’d love to hear them.
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