The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels
by Michael Watkins
Personally, I can’t think of a modern-day business person and/or organization that wouldn’t benefit from this great read. Let’s face it, can you think of an organization that won’t be experiencing some kind of staff transition in the future? Are you aware of an individual who won’t be dealing with a transition of some sort in pursuit of his/her career track?
Webster defines transition as: “a passing from one condition, place, etc. to another.” Therefore, we’re not talking only about someone becoming a CEO, although that high level transition is certainly covered in this book. Michael Watkins provides a great hands-on guide to anyone dealing with any one of a multitude of transitions ranging from a job change or promotion to launching a start-up or leading a turnaround.
Watkins points out the obvious by noting that as long as there have been leaders, there have been leadership transitions. The changing of the guard and the challenges it poses for the new leader are as old as human society. Those challenges have not gotten any easier given the complexity of modern organizations and the speed at which business is conducted. Watkins knows of what he speaks as he is a noted leadership transition expert as well as an Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.
The author said he was struck, as we all should be, by how few companies invested in helping their precious leadership assets succeed during transitions—arguably the most critical junctures in their careers. Why do companies leave their people to sink or swim? What would it be worth to companies if managers entering critical new positions could take charge faster? I guess I’m amazed why this individual author would ask these questions BEFORE all of these companies would consider it. After all, it’s the companies that suffer the losses or enjoy continued growth and prosperity from the gains!
The pressure on new leaders to hit the ground running has never been greater, and the likelihood and cost of failure is escalating. For three years he explored these issues by studying dozens of leadership transitions at all levels, by designing transaction acceleration programs for leading companies, and by developing an outline performance-support tool for new leaders. That work culminated in the writing of this book.
In this hands-on guide, Watkins provides strategies for avoiding the most common pitfalls new leaders encounter and shows how individuals can protect themselves—emotionally as well as professionally—during what is often an intense and vulnerable period. He provides a road map for creating your own 90-day acceleration plan. The conceptual backbone of the road map is ten key transitional challenges:
- 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
If you succeed in meeting these core challenges, you will have a successful transition. Failure to surmount any one of them, however, is enough to cause potentially crippling problems. Concise and actionable, this is the survival guide no new leader should be without. The First 90 Days should be incorporated into every company’s leadership development strategy, so that anyone making a transition in an organization can get up to speed quicker and smarter.
(This book review was originally published in 2005 as one of the Top 10 Books – Edition 14.)