Why it Takes at Least 90 Days


There is a lot to digest in Michael Watkins' book, The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter. Watkins' goal is to lay out a plan for people to be successful in their new leadership position, but beware: the plan has many moving parts.


The main takeaway from The First 90 Days is that leaders need to match their strategy to whatever situation the company or department is in, and Watkins uses the anagram of STARS to describe these five situations: start-up, turnaround, accelerated growth, realignment, or sustaining success. Watkins also stresses that you need to diagnose the situation before you can make any changes. Chapters 4, 7 and 8 of the book focus on the importance of developing good relationships with the people you work with, at all levels.

"You cannot figure out where to take a new organization if you do not understand where it has been and how it got where it is." P. 75

It occurred to me that the strategy Watkins suggests leaders use to create a shared vision in Chapter 7 is the one he uses in writing this book, namely have a few main themes and repeat them often, using analogies and metaphors where applicable. I especially liked his comparison between leading an organization and sailing a ship:

Aligning an organization is like preparing for a long sailing trip. First, you need to be clear on whether your destination (the mission and goals) and your route (the strategy) are the right ones. Then you can figure out which boat you need (the structure), how to outfit it (the processes), and which mix of crew members is best (the skill bases). P. 146

While the book is written for people taking on leadership positions, there are parts to the plan that are helpful to anyone stepping into a new job. For instance, Chapter 4, entitled, "Negotiate Success" is about developing a good working relationship with your boss. Good advice for everyone is to figure out your boss' style, e.g. how often and in what way they like to communicate. It may be very different from your preferred style of communication, but as Watkins' advises, "Assume that the job of building a positive relationship with your new boss is 100 percent your responsibility." p. 105


The First 90 Days is only 257 pages long, if you don't count the notes or index sections, but due to the complexity of the topic, it may be a struggle to digest. There are ways to benefit from this book without reading it word-for-word. One way would be to read the quick guides sprinkled throughout the book (see below). There are related tools provided, as well, to fill out with your observations and plans. Another option would be to read the questions in the Checklists at the end of each chapter, and try to answer them as best you can. If you get confused as to what the question pertains to, you can go back and skim the chapter to get clarity.


However you decide to capitalize on the information provided in this book, it will benefit you. While there are no guarantees for success (check out p. 245 Reasons for transition failures), reading this book does increase the odds.


Quick guides:

Core promotion challenges p. 25

Questions about the Past p. 51

Questions about the Present p. 52

Questions about the Future p. 53

Structured methods for learning p.61

Learning Plan Template p. 63-64

The STARS Model p. 72

Leading change in turnarounds versus realignments p. 80

Matching support to your situation p.97

Problematic behavior patterns p. 120

Process analysis example p. 159

The Incentive Equation p. 184

Inspiration for vision statements p. 186

Framing arguments p. 215

Guidelines, Structured Reflection p.223

Assessment of core challenges p. 228

Types of advisers p. 234

Reasons for transition failures p. 245

Transition versus developmental coaching p. 252



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