If you only read one thing this week…

The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders – book review by ifyouonlyreadonethingthisweek
June 29, 2006, 9:07 pm
Filed under: Book reviews, If you only have 15 mins

The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels by Michael Watkins, 2003.

Michael Watkins’ book tackles the opportunities and challenges that face people moving into new positions and provides some useful guidelines for setting yourself up for success in the critical first three months in a new job. It helps you to identify what type of position you are moving into (startup, turnaround, realignment, sustaining success) and gives strategies for succeeding in each of them.

Particularly useful are chapters five and six that talk about establishing a relationship with your new supervisor and how to set realistic expectations for what you plan to achieve.

Other key strategies for success recommended by Watkins include: securing easy wins; building your team effectively; creating coalitions (particularly important at Mercy Corps?) and how to accelerate learning in the early phases of a new job. A brief summary of the chapters is given below.

1. Promote yourself. Make a mental break from your old job. Prepare to take charge in the new one. Don’t assume that what has made you successful so far will continue to do so.

2. Accelerate your learning. Understand markets, products, technologies, systems, and structures, as well as culture and politics. Be systematic and focused about deciding what you need to learn.

3. Match strategy to situation. There are no universal rules for success in transitions. You need to diagnose the business situation accurately and clarify its challenges and opportunities.

4. Secure early wins. Early victories build your credibility and create momentum. They create virtuous cycles that leverage organizational energy. In the first few weeks, you need to identify opportunities to build personal credibility.

5. Negotiate success. You need to figure out how to build a productive working relationship with your new boss and manage his or her expectations. No other relationship is more important. This means having a series of critical talks about the situation, expectations, style, resources, and your personal development.

6. Achieve alignment. The higher you rise in an organization, the more you have to play the role of organizational architect. This means figuring out whether the organization’s strategy is sound, bringing its structure into alignment with its strategy, and developing the systems and skills bases necessary to realize strategic intent.

7. Build your team. If you are inheriting a team, you will need to evaluate its members. Perhaps you need to restructure it to better meet demands of the situation. Your willingness to make tough early personnel calls and your capacity to select the right people for the right positions are among the most important drivers of success during your transition.

8. Create coaltions. Success depends on your ability to influence people outside your direct line of control. Supportive alliances, both internal and external, will be necessary to achieve your goals.

9. Keep your balance. The risks of losing perspective, getting isolated, and making bad calls are ever present during transitions. The right advice-and-counsel network is an indispensable resource

10. Expedite everyone. Finally, you need to help everyone else – direct reports, bosses, and peers – accelerate their own transitions. The quicker you can get your new direct reports up to speed, the more you will help your own performance.

While a lot of the information contained in the book is intuitive, but it is nonetheless useful to have it laid out in an easy to digest format.

Mr Watkins is an Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, where he researchs leadership and negotiation.

Powells, an independent bookstore in Portland, sells, and will ship this book – see this link. Of course, Amazon stocks it as well.


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