The first 90 days

A how to guide for starting your next job.

Introduction: The First 90 Days

Why transitions are critical times. How new leaders can take charge more effectively. Building career transition competence. Assessing transition risk in taking a new role.

1. Prepare Yourself

Why people fail to make the mental break from their old jobs. Preparing to take charge in a new role. Understanding the challenges of promotion and on boarding. Assessing preferences and vulnerabilities.

What got you here won’t get you there

Assimilating yourself

Be Curious

2. Accelerate Your Learning

You need to plan to learn. Just like planning a project, This means in advance figuring out what the important questions are, and how you can best answer them. It’s rare to think systematically about your learning, and to approach it systematically. It’s also rare to do this in projects, and that’s a good cause for mistakes.

Without learning, you risk the the equivalent of org organ rejection syndrome (you are the organ). You’ll do things that trigger the org’s immune system and be under attack as a foreign body. Even in turnarounds and reorganizations when you’ve been brought in to import new ways of doing things, you still have to learn about the org’s culture and politics to socialize and customize your approach.

What keeps you from learning

Desire for action - uneducated action is usually the mistake

  • External pressure can be magnified by insecurity. Remember, shit was broken before you arrived, and would still be broken a few weeks later if it took yo u a few extra weeks to join.
  • Anxious to prove yourself, but you prove yourself by listening and being curious
  • Too busy to learn will result in a death spiral

Thinking you know the problem and the answer - that’s arrogance, often resulting in the wrong answer.

  • Odds are you don’t know.

Ignoring parts of the role you dislike.

  • Just because you’re bad at something doesn’t mean you don’t need to know it, or know how to keep it covered.

What you need to ship - the proven hypothesis

Ramping up is the same as delivering any project. You need to start with a deliberate outcome, in this case what you need to learn, and how you’ll learn it. As with a project as you learn more, you’ll change your definition of done. But you need to constantly evaluate your learning goals and process to test if you’re delivering on your goals efficiently.

  • Start with generic questions
  • Create specific questions
  • Make specific hypothesis
  • Attempt to prove and disprove them.

How did you get here?


  • How has this organization performed in the past?
  • How do people think it performed?
  • How were goals set? Were they too easy or too hard?
  • How where the goals measured?
  • What behaviors did they encourage and discourage?
  • What happened if goals were missed?

What’s good and why

  • Strategy,
  • Structure,
  • Systems,
  • Talent bases,
  • Culture
  • politics

What’s not so good and why?

  • Org Strategy?
  • Org Structure?
  • Technical capabilities?
  • Culture?
  • Politics?

History of Change

  • What efforts have been made to change the organization?
  • What happened?
  • Who has been instrumental in shaping this organization?

Where is here?

Vision and Strategy

  • What is the stated vision and strategy?
  • Is the organization really pursuing that strategy?
    • If not, why not?
    • If so, will the strategy take the organization where it needs to go?


  • Who is capable, and who is not?
  • Who is trustworthy, and who is not?
  • Who has influence, and why?


  • What are the key processes?
  • Are they performing acceptably in quality, reliability, and timeliness? If not, why not? Land Mines
  • What lurking surprises could detonate and push you offtrack?
  • What potentially damaging cultural or political missteps must you avoid?

Early Wins

  • In what areas (people, relationships, processes, or products) can you achieve some early wins?

Where are you going?

Challenges and Opportunities

  • In what areas is the organization most likely to face stiff challenges in the coming year?
  • What can be done now to prepare for them?
  • What are the best unexploited opportunities?
  • What would need to happen to realize their potential?

Barriers and Resources

  • What are the most formidable barriers to making needed changes? Are they technical? Cultural? Political?
  • Are there islands of excellence or other high-quality resources that you can leverage? What new capabilities need to be developed or acquired?

Culture Which elements of the culture should be preserved? Which elements need to change?

Structured 1 on 1s

Just like interviews, it’s easy to miss critical data, to have unconscious bias, and to form conclusions after your first few 1:1s. Avoid this by having a set of 1:1 questions you ask everyone, and record their answers and synthesize learning when you’re done the 1:1s. Good questions:

  • What are the biggest challenges the organization is facing (or will face in the near future)?
  • Why is the organization facing (or going to face) these challenges?
  • What are the most promising unexploited opportunities for growth?
  • What would need to happen for the organization to exploit the potential of these opportunities?
  • If you were me, what would you focus attention on?

Technical learning


Milestone #1 +14 days

  • Review detailed operating plans, performance data, and personnel data.
  • Meet one-on-one with your direct reports and ask them the questions you compiled.
    • You will learn about convergent and divergent views and about your reports as people.
  • Assess how things are going at key interfaces. You will hear how salespeople, purchasing agents, customer service representatives, and others perceive your organization’s dealings with external constituencies. You will also learn about problems they see that others do not.
  • Test strategic alignment from the top down. Ask people at the top what the company’s vision and strategy are. Then see how far down into the organizational hierarchy those beliefs penetrate. You will learn how well the previous leader drove vision and strategy down through the organization.
  • Test awareness of challenges and opportunities from the bottom up. Start by asking front line people how they view the company’s challenges and opportunities. Then work your way up. You will learn how well the people at the top check the pulse of the organization.
  • Update your questions and hypotheses.
  • Meet with your boss to discuss your questions, hypotheses, and findings.

Milestone #2 +30 days

  • Gather your team to feed back to them your preliminary findings. You will elicit confirmation and challenges of your assessments and will learn more about the group and its dynamics.
  • Now analyze key interfaces from the outside in. You will learn how people on the outside (suppliers, customers, distributors, and others) perceive your organization and its strengths and weaknesses.
  • Analyze a couple of key processes. Convene representatives of the responsible groups to map out and evaluate the processes you selected. You will learn about productivity, quality, and reliability.
  • Meet with key integrator. You will learn how things work at interfaces among functional areas. What problems do they perceive that others do not?
  • Seek out the natural historians. They can fill you in on the history, culture, and politics of the organization, and they are also potential allies and influencers.
  • Update your questions and hypotheses.
  • Meet with your boss to discuss your questions, hypotheses, and findings.

3. Match Strategy to Situation

The dangers of “one-best-way” thinking. Diagnosing the situation to develop the right strategy. The STARS model of types of transitions. Using the model to analyze portfolios, and lead change.


Phase Opportunity Challenge
Turn Around    
Accelerated Growth    
Sustaining Success    

Turn around vs Realignment

Sound similar but need a different approach:

Will you be a Hero or Steward

How to measure and Reward by Situation

How your boss can help

4. Negotiate Success

Building a productive working relationship with a new boss. The five-conversations framework. Defining expectations. Agreeing on a diagnosis of the situation. Figuring out how to work together. Negotiating for resources. Putting together your 90-day plan.

The fundamentals

  • Have frequent engagement - Make it a priority
  • Don’t surprise - Heads up as soon as you know
  • Don’t just bring problems - bring an idea to resolve
  • Don’t expect your boss to change
  • Clarify Expectation early and often
  • Take 100% responsibility to make relationship work.
  • Pick early wins your boss cares about
  • Impress folks who your boss trusts

The 5 conversations

  • Diagnose the situations
  • Align Expectations
  • Get Resources you need
  • Style Conversation
  • Personal Development

Negotiate the plan

  • Make it written to catch gaps and avoid memory gaps
  • Share with boss, and use as a contract to drive alignment

Milestone #2 +30 days

  • Devote 30 days to learning and building credibility
  • Keep your boss to the commitment to allow this
  • Goal, diagnose of the situation, key priorities, plan for next 30 days

Milestone #3 +60 days

  • Where and how you’ll get early wins
  • Early discussion focus on situation agreement, expectation, and plan buy in.

Have the 5 conversations down as well.

5. Secure Early Wins

Avoiding common traps. Figuring out A-item priorities. Creating a compelling vision. Building personal credibility. Getting started on improving organizational performance. Plan-then-implement change versus collective learning.

Pick your wins

You need to build short term momentum and lay a foundation for long term goals. Think through what you’ll deliver aka “the goals met”, and the how, aka “the behaviors seen”.

  1. Focus on a few wins
  2. Find wins your boss cares about
  3. Win by being a class act
  4. Remember your STARS when deciding your wins
  5. Look at the wins given the culture you have.

Write your “leader story”

Your early actions will be written into stories that will turn you into a loved hero, or a hated villain. People are answering:

  1. Do you have the insight and steadiness to make hard decisions?
  2. Do you have values they admire?
  3. Do you have the right energy?
  4. Do you inist on high standards for yourself and others?

Good leaders thrive to be :

  1. Demanding, but be satisfiable
  2. Accessible, but not too familiar
  3. Decisive but thoughtful.
  4. Focused but flexible
  5. Active but not causing churn
  6. Make hard calls, but be humane.

Make time to share:

  1. Who you are, and what you stand for
  2. Teachable moments

How will you lead change

  1. Turn your goals into projects
  2. Focus on high leverage points
  3. Manage the wins as projects
  4. Elevate change agents
  5. Leverage early wins as examples of how you want things to operate.

Use FOGLAMP to make progress:

  • F - What is the focus, what is the intent of the project
  • O - How will you oversee the project
  • G - What goals and milestones
  • L - Who will lead the project?
  • A - Abilities - what people resources and skills are required to deliver
  • M - Means (materials) - what resources are required
  • P - Process - Are there required process changes


  • Different in turn around vs sustaining success

Are you making a decision, or having collective learning and decision making.

  • Be clear on which you’re doing.

Avoid land mines

While you are excuting, make sure you’re not derailed by the following:

  • The external environment
  • Customers/markets/competitors/strategy
  • Internal Capabilities
  • Organizational Politics

6. Achieve Alignment

The role of the leader as organizational architect. Identifying the root causes of poor performance. Aligning strategy, structure, systems, skills, and culture.

7. Build Your Team

Inheriting a team and changing it. Managing the tension between short-term and long-term goals. Working team restructuring and organizational architecture issues in parallel. Putting in place new team processes.

8. Create Alliances

The trap of thinking that authority is enough. Identifying whose support is critical. Mapping networks of influence and patterns of deference. Altering perceptions of interests and alternatives.

9. Manage Yourself

How leaders get caught in vicious cycles. The three pillars of self-efficacy. Creating and enforcing personal disciplines. Building an advice-and-counsel network.

Self assessment

On a scale of 1-10 why or why not?

  • Excited
  • Confident
  • In control of your success

What is bothering you?

  • Who who have you failed to connect?
  • Which meeting is the most troublesome?
  • Of all you seen, what bothered you the most?

What has gone well or poorly?

  • Which interactions would you handle differently
  • Which interactions exceed expectations
  • Which decision came out the best, worse?
  • What missed opportunity do you most miss, was it your mistake, or something out of your control?

Are your problems, structural, or personal? If you think it’s structural, it’ll make you more likely to procrastinate.

Common problems

No boundaries - The more you are willing to take, the more folks will give you. No one will set boundaries but you. If you get too much, you’ll become resentful and burn out.

Rigidity - If need control, might dig in heels instead of being flexible when stuff changes.

Isolation - You need to have allies, and see the underground network of information. Easy to happen 1) don’t make time for connections, 2) over rely on official informaion 3) over rely on a few people 4) Discounraged key people from talking to you - either for 1 shoot the messenger, or 2 becuse you’ve scared them off.

Avoiding hard decisions - Perhaps you don’t have the information you need, or you’re worried about life impact on others, or you think it gets easier over time. But it gets harder.

Insecurity and Shame - See Insecurity and Shame

Solutions - Being with end in mind - Focus on 90 day plan

Solutions - First thing first - Personal Discipline

Plan to plan - Monthly, Weekly, and Daily Plans

Stay in quadrant 2 - Block time on your calendar

Defer commitemnt - Never say yes on the spot. Always figure out if you can afford to do it, do not get pressured early. WAY better to no to yes then yes to no. Yes to no is hard on your reputation

Go to the balcony

Too emotional? Step back and get an objective opinion.

Check in with yourself

Need structured reflection

Recognize when to quit

Over the stress curve, need to drop certain things.

Solutions - Interdependance - Build Support Systems

Start by making your bed - Small thing will kill you, get done the things you control.

Stabilize the home front - Avoid fighting on too many fronts, your home life can kill you, get your family sorted out.

Focus on your network

  • Need Technical, Cultural , Political Advisors
  • Need insiders, and external obsevers:
  • Insiders who are trustworthy with no personal agenda, or conficting interest. Give you strait accurate advice. External supporters - loyal to you, not to the org. Friends and colleauges
  • In partner groups, to help understand perspective, need to get several views

10. Accelerate Everyone

Why so few companies focus on transition acceleration. The opportunity to institutionalize a common framework. Using the framework to accelerate team development, develop high-potential leaders, integrate acquisitions, and strengthen succession planning.

Notes on the book

This book is a model for how business books should be written. The conclusion concludes everything. The chapters all conclude the major points - it’s great.