The Executive's Guide To The First 90 Days

Much has been written about the early days in a new position—specifically focused on new leaders taking on new teams, more responsibility, and even an entire company as CEO. The landmark book The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins, is something that many point to for advice in this area. It begins by stating, “The actions you take in your first three months in the new job will largely determine whether you succeed or fail.” That’s a lot of pressure to do all the right things in your first quarter on the job.


Hiring a CEO? Make the First 90 Days Count.

According to a study conducted by the International Data Corporation: “U.S. and U.K. employees cost businesses an estimated $37 billion every year because they do not fully understand their jobs.”

Thankfully, these pitfalls can be easily avoided; by making good first impressions, embracing a new culture, and developing an initial game plan, you will increase your chance of success and demonstrate your abilities right away. Here’s a simple guide that will help you to do just that in your first ninety days.



Start Strong by Learning Proactively

We all know that first impressions are everything; your peers, boss and/or board of directors will all form their opinions about you based on the limited information they gather during your initial interactions. So, be sure to make those interactions count; positively shape their impressions early on by demonstrating an attitude of active learning.


One key to impressing both your superiors and subordinates is proving that you’ve done your research.

Look down every avenue—even before you start the job. Research what’s been said about your new company in the press and online. Follow all their social media channels, as well as their key clients and most significant competitors. By doing this, you’ll be able to speak fluently about your company’s affairs from your first day on the job, thus streamlining your training processes and impressing your co-workers.


Always Listen First

Think of listening well in your first ninety days as an extension of your initial research.

Meet your Superiors

Get to know the leaders and performers in the company; meet everybody who you will be working with as quickly as possible.  First, meet with your superiors to clarify your duties and their expectations. 

Meet your Colleagues and Direct Reports

After that, meet with your colleagues and subordinates. As you do, rather than focusing on the technical parts of the company, pay attention to the overall cultural and business aspects. In this way you will acclimate to the workflow and style of your company quickly, giving you a firm foundation on which to take action in the future.

Meet Key Clients and Stakeholders

After understanding corporate culture, find time to meet with all your company’s clients and key stakeholders, listening to their wants and needs. From soaking up information regarding operations, to finance, to marketing, and even employee morale, leave no stone unturned. If you run into any major issues along the way, be sure to stop and solve them as quickly as possible.  

After dealing with pressing matters, if you notice any company initiatives that aren’t working or if any new staff is required, be sure to make a note of it. With all the data you gather, you’ll be able to establish a baseline regarding your company’s current performance that you’ll use to accurately measure your progress in the future.


Lock In Consensus

“Build momentum by creating virtuous cycles that build credibility and by avoiding getting caught in vicious cycles that damage credibility,” - Michael Watkins, The First 90 Days

In addition to the already-mentioned benefits, strong listening will demonstrate to your colleagues that you have the soft skills necessary to be a team player. By fostering an initial sense of inclusion and importance among your team members, you’ll set a positive tone for your tenure. This will be imperative when it comes to securing buy-in from your peers and team when working on big projects down the line.


Build Alignment & Communicate

At the executive and senior leadership level, change fosters uncertainty. However, through careful planning, the process can be made easy.

After listening, learning, and locking-in approval, sit down with your team and communicate your key findings regarding successes and areas that need improvement. Based on that, articulate your vision for the future and become an advocate in areas you deem appropriate. Show intent by creating a ninety-day plan that includes tangible deliverables; make it clear that while your team stays accountable to you, you will also be accountable to them. After that, make plans to give each other updates at regular intervals.

This process will allow you to demonstrate your values and expectations, which is crucial at the beginning of your tenure. You can even get as specific as outlining metrics by which your team will be evaluated.


Build Cohesive Teams

Amidst the rush to build your plan and start achieving goals, many leaders often skip over the all-important, yet basic step of team building.  Getting people to work together isn’t easy. It’s a process that requires emotional intelligence to understand the attitudes of your subordinates towards their teams and to work tactfully within that realm to maximize efficiency. 

Beyond team building, make sure to set precedents for how you will communicate, handle concerns and reach consensus in the future. Laying this groundwork with concrete procedures will make everyone feel comfortable within a grounded, structured workflow. As you spend more time with your team, this alignment will naturally fall into place. 

The bottom line is that your actions in the first few months will have a major impact on your success in the new role, and subsequently the success of your team and company. If you keep this guide close by, you’ll be on your way to a successful tenure in no time.


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