The First 90 Days - Michael Watkins

The First 90 Days - Michael Watkins

Find out how to be prepared for a new leadership position and reach success to leverage your career.

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Are you transitioning or joining a new business in a leadership role? Do you have leaders taking on critical roles who have been hired from outside or are making challenging internal moves? Michael Watkins presents in the book “The First 90 Days” a strategy to make this process easier, extracting the best from everybody.

To ensure your success, you need to update quickly and find ways to create a positive moment in your new role. In this summary, we’ve separated the main topics to help you comprehend better.

Nowadays a fast and effective change is crucial for the maintenance of the company, and as a leader, you have the responsibility to make the right decision. Stay with us in this book summary and discover more about this strategy!

The book “The First 90 Days”

“The First 90 Days” was first published in 2003 by Michael Watkins.

Divided into 10 chapters, the author points to the creation of a 90-day career transition acceleration plan. It also points out what are the key challenges at this moment.

The author’s bestseller was originally published by Harvard Business Press and sold over 100,000 copies in one year in the U.S.

Who is Michael Watkins?

Michael Watkins is a professor of leadership and organizational change at the International Institute for Management Development and a leading expert on accelerating career transitions.

He is co-founder and president of Genesis Advisers, an executive transitional integration and acceleration company.

In addition, he has another successful publication: “Your Next Move: The Leader’s Guide to Navigating Major Career Transitions”, which acts as a complement to the work “The First 90 Days” that we are discussing in this summary.

Why should I read “The First 90 Days”?

Aimed at new leaders who, regardless of rank, want to accelerate the career transition process efficiently.

What can I learn from “The First 90 Days”?

  • Changes to leadership positions are opportunities to correct past mistakes and develop new skills;
  • Difficulties are related to the interaction between the situation and the new leader;
  • Investing in a rational structure to accelerate transitions can generate profits for the organization;
  • The key is to adapt the strategy to the situation;
  • Transitions should be treated with the necessary importance due to complexity, supporting the executive at this time.

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[Book Summary] The First 90 Days - Michael Watkins

The Balance Point

You have 90 days to show off your talent. What you do will show you where you came from, your success or your failure. Obviously, this is something of great value that is at stake right now.

Many times in this transition we follow our intuition and our experience, but this is not the most effective and efficient method to follow. These changes are opportunities to correct past mistakes and develop new skills for new projects.

Accelerating the transition and preventing failure will determine the fastest break-even point.

“The break-even point is where new leaders add to organizations the same value they have already consumed from them.”

At this point, leaders move from net consumers of the organization to net contributors, that is, they generate more for the company.

Make your own promotion

Focusing mentally on one’s promotion, overcoming past hardships, and adopting thoughts of the new position are key to this first moment.

One of the biggest mistakes is thinking that in the new function you will continue to do something similar to the previous function but in a marked way.

Creating breakpoint

It takes a break from the old function and fully assumes the new function. Use this transition time to your advantage, such as celebrating with family and friends, as well as asking counselors and “dive headfirst” into the transition.

Your transition begins as you are already considering this new position, and other people in the organization expect you to be the best-prepared person to fill this position.

Set goals with milestones such as “What am I planning to do on the first day?”. From this, move on to the first week, the first month, and so on until you reach the milestone of the third month.

It may be that something in this planning is not what you thought, but kicking it off will help you in the new role.

Speed up learning

If the transition is between different organizations, try to find out about the new organization and learn everything in the shortest possible time so that you can generate profits for the organization.

But why do this? Having effective knowledge about the new organization reduces insecurity. This gives you the ability to act directly on any issues that may arise.

A starting point is to define a learning plan with questions about the organization's past, present, and future.

Adjust strategy to a situation

It is always necessary to make an accurate identification of the problems faced in the new position to define the strategy that will be applied. This identification is a condition for the elaboration of the strategic action plan.

Understanding the challenges of the new situation 

Michael Watkins presents 4 basic types of different business situations that the new leader is likely to face:

  • “Startup companies or products”;
  • “Change of orientation”;
  • “Realignment”;
  • “Continued Success”.

Each requires a different plan of action. These situations represent the STARS (Start-up, Turnaround, Accelerated Growth, Realignment, and Sustaining success) model.

Guaranteeing initial earnings

During the transition period, it is important to be able to create value and for the new leader to implement improvements that generate a good reputation.

Employees in the organization must feel that new and positive things are happening and that this is related to the new leader. Your goal at this stage is personal credibility, as a stable opinion of the leader is hardly reversed.

These gains will encourage the new leader and help to break even faster.

Negotiate Success

Starting from a position that does not fail, it is always advisable to negotiate. It is interesting to create a positive working relationship with employees from the outset and negotiate goals with them. It is important that their expectations are matched with their actions to generate results.

Many end up not giving importance to this relationship and, therefore, end up failing in their goals. According to Michael Watkins:

“There is a lot that the new leader can do to build a productive working relationship with his superior.”

Focus on the fundamentals

Establishing this productive relationship requires a number of things that the author classifies as to what should and should not be done. We’ll start with what not to do:

  • “Don’t throw the past in the trash”;
  • “Don’t stay away from the boss”;
  • “Never surprise the director”;
  • “Don’t resort only in times of difficulty”;
  • “Don’t waste time on unproductive things”.

What should be done:

  • “Make the relationship give positive results with mastery of the subject”;
  • “Make clear the expectations of both parties”;
  • “Negotiate deadlines for investigation and action planning”;
  • “Schedule the realization of initial gains”.

Given this list, you are ready to plan the best way to negotiate with your superior.

A good conversation always goes well

Agreeing on the work plan requires frequent conversations about identifying the situation, what it hopes to accomplish, what style of negotiation it has, what resources are available, and how it is contributing to personal career growth.

Learn how to deal with good and bad managers. When it comes to bad managers, you end up thinking badly and make your leadership poor. And that’s not your goal, is it?

The best thing to do is to evaluate these errors and apply improvements in their performance.

Achieving alignment

Taking on the role of the organizational architect is part of your challenge, the higher up your new position in the hierarchy. If your unit is out of alignment, there is no charisma that will accomplish much. Michael Watkins says that you will end up feeling “rowing against the tide”.

To achieve the goals set, the organization's strategy, structure, systems and capabilities, and culture must work together. Assuming the new function it is of paramount importance that you analyze the alignment between these elements.

Riding the tea

“The First 90 Days” states that your team must have an indispensable talent to achieve superior results. Make a true selection!

The success of your team brings you unique support, as there is no success achieved on your own. Find the right team, but that alone is not enough to succeed.

In a new organization, evaluate who was already on the old team and decide who stays and who leaves, hiring new ones for vacancies and relocating to those who leave.

Boost your team always towards the goals set. You will be successful in assembling the team when you reach breakeven. At first, it may seem to be difficult, but leaving is just controlling and achieving the goals.

Create coalitions

Michael Watkins advises to not get stuck in one direction only. Seek new horizons as the audience outside the hierarchical line.

Invest in imagination and energy with this audience but don’t go to anyone. You as a leader should learn to invest in people you can work with and count on later.

  • “Draw a map of influences”;
  • “Identify supporters, opponents, and influencers”;
  • “Use tools of persuasion”.

It is this ability to influence people to support you in your goals that will contribute to the success of your walk-in these 90 days.

It is up to you to determine the importance of relationships and turn them into a foundation for the projects you will undertake!

Keep balance

Are you a leader in a moment of transition? Feeling like you’re on a tightrope? Does the uncertainty and inaccuracy of this situation make you hang? Maintaining balance ends up being one of the biggest challenges.

Your success may depend on your ability to dispel the personal and professional disruption that surrounds you in this transition and on maintaining your ability to make good judgments.

Relying on a good support network (like that team you built up earlier) will help you at this time.

Speed up everyone

Putting all employees at the speed needed to achieve goals will help you achieve results faster. Have a common language with everyone to help with this acceleration.

Michael Watkins explains that this language increases the effectiveness of questions such as:

  • “What are the top priorities?”;
  • “What are the priorities for team building?”;
  • “What progress has been made in attracting leadership to key conversations?”.

When hiring new employees, start testing the method you used to reach your break-even point. Once this goal has been achieved, move on so that they can use it with their immediate counterparts.

After 90 days, you should be fully established and know the whole process and the whole team. No more excuses to say you're still learning, though knowledge never hurts.

Books about leadership and productivity

In Segredos da Alta Performance the authors Douglas de Matteu and Wilson Nascimento help to achieve great results, especially by correcting past mistakes and developing new skills for what you want in the new venture. It is important to have self-knowledge.

In the book The 8th Habit Stephen R. Covey says the leader must inspire confidence and without it, there is no effectiveness in projects. Speed and costs are directly linked to it. When there is credibility, the speed of projects is faster and generates lower costs.

Finally, in the book The Leadership Pipeline, Ram Charam will show you the behaviors to become a successful leader. All the important topics about leadership are addressed in this book!

How can I apply the ideas from “The First 90 Days”?

  • Abandon past vices, focus on the present and ambition for new achievements in the future;
  • Transitions are always a tense moment, keep your balance and count on the support of your team;
  • Have a trusting relationship with your team;
  • Hold dialogues with your bosses and negotiate your goals.

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Are you ready to apply this 90-days strategy in your company to become a successful leader? Did you find this content useful? Leave your feedback in the comments!

In addition, if you are interested in the book’s full edition, don’t hesitate to click on the image below and get it!

The First 90 Days - Michael D. Watkins