If you have just secured a new leadership position or you’re about to, The first 90 days by Michael D. Watkins is absolutely the book to go to. It gives you a really good step-by-step master plan on what to do and how in the first three months after being appointed to a new leadership position. Ever since there has been leading, there have also been transitions to new leadership positions and with this, transitional and initial periods. Every transitional period or transition is the critical time during which small changes and important actions can have a big influence on the final result.

The most important part of a successful transition lies in shortening the learning curve. A shorter learning period is the main secret of successful new leaders. This goes for all types of transitions, from job promotions, company reorganisation, the launch of your own company, implementing new big projects, or working outside your native country.

We are retained to appoint Executives (CFO/COO/CHROs) once hired there is a big step/challenge ahead for a successful individual once they take over the leadership position because they are not familiar with the organisational structure, informal networks, culture and climate in the company. People can also be sceptical towards new leaders due to a fear of change! I thought I’d share some key takeaways from the book to aid a successful transition. These are:

  • Change your mindset
  • Accelerate learning
  • Make a suitable strategy
  • Secure early wins
  • Negotiate success
  • Achieve alignment
  • Build the dream team
  • Create alliances
  • Keep your balance
  • Help everyone else with the transition

Prepare Yourself Mentally for the New Role 

The first step towards a successful transition is for you to mentally prepare yourself for the new role, let go of the past and accept your new duties and responsibilities. You need to have a good mental starting point. The biggest common problem with a mental shift is the conviction that you will be successful in the new position if you do the same things you did before. Changing your mentality has to be strategic and first includes an evaluation of your weaknesses and advantages SWOT analysis in other words) depending on the abilities that the new position demands.

Accelerate Your Learning

Successful and effective learning decreases the timeframe of your vulnerability. This is why you need an incredible strategic plan of what and how you will learn. If you don’t acquire enough knowledge about the organisation and its business operations, you can set wrong hypotheses, which are fatal for the company and your career. Usually, the biggest challenge in learning is running out of time. But being too busy for learning often leads to the spiral of death. If you don’t learn enough, you make bad decisions, bad decisions lead to a bad mark in credibility, consequently, people share less information with you, and this leads to even worse decisions. Successful and effective learning means that you first find out what you truly need to learn. What makes the most sense is to prepare a list of things that you have to know. The list of things has to refer to the past as well as to the present and future of the organization. 

Match Strategy to Situation

Creating a strategy first includes the diagnosis of the current state. That’s because the strategy always needs to be adapted to an individual situation. In a rough division, there are four types of situations, namely company launch, company reorganisation, reorientation of business operations or continuation of successful business operations. No matter the situation, the goal is the same: a successful and growing business. And no matter the situation, new leaders face difficult decisions very early on. A suitable strategy also includes a plan of where you’ll focus your energy. You have to decide how much you’ll learn and how much you’ll execute.

Secure Early Wins

After the end of a transitional period, you want bosses, co-workers, subordinates and others to feel like something new and positive happened. Early wins strongly increase an individual’s credibility. Of course, it is crucial to avoid early defeats because that has an incredibly negative effect on your further development in a new function. For early wins, you have to plan the waves of change, which include learning, forming the change, ensuring suitable support for the change, implementation, and observing results. If you carry out too many changes too quickly, that is an excellent recipe for burnout in people, and you also never truly know what actually works and what doesn’t. You ensure early wins most easily if you have a list of priorities that you tackle with a suitable strategy. The true purpose of the first 90 days is to build personal credibility and new positive momentum in the organisation.

Negotiate Success

Negotiating success means that you proactively include your boss into the entire game so that you have a real chance of achieving the desired goals. Less control can be a happy coincidence if you truly need that for success, or a curse if the rope is long enough for you to hang yourself. You also shouldn’t try to change them or go to them with a list of what you’ve done but rather to discuss the key things and what they can help you with. On the other hand, it’s important that you take complete responsibility for your relationship with the boss, clearly define mutual expectations, and arrange for suitable deadlines so that a lack of time doesn’t force you to go into more with too little knowledge. In this it’s important to identify the untouchable parts and people in the company, you should keep educating your boss, clarify things on the fly and, last but not least, do more than you promise, not the other way around.

Achieve Alignment

Every organization has five key elements: Strategy / Organisational structure / System of processes / People’s competences / Culture. All five elements have to be suitably synchronized. The strategy has to correspond with the competencies in the company, the system of processes, and the organisational structure. Alignment in an organisation is similar to preparing yourself for a long journey. First you need a destination – goal and mission; then a journey plan – strategy; then you need to find out what kind of a vessel you even need – organisational structure; how to equip and set the rules of the structure’s functioning – system; and what kind of a crew is most appropriate – skills of the people you need.

Build Your Team

You can in no way afford to have the wrong people beside you. If you succeed in building the right team around you, you can have incredible leverage in value creation. No leader can achieve great things alone, so a team is crucial, and a bad team means a lot of problems and few results. The two biggest common mistakes are that leaders try to do everything by themselves and execute certain activities before the team has been formed. When you take over a new function it is crucial to evaluate the current team, focusing on competencies as well as on an individual’s judgement, energy, focus, relationships and level of trust. Besides every individual team member, it is incredibly important to also evaluate the team as a whole. No matter your decision about individual team members, you have to treat all people with high respect.

Create Alliances

Formal authority is never enough for a big enough win. Informal influential networks amongst co‑workers in an organisation usually have an important influence on how successful you will be in implementing your ideas and goals. Sooner or later, you need the support of people over whom you have no authority. The recipe for this is simple. Start early. It’s never a good idea to approach someone for the very first time when you need something from them. It is completely pointless to introduce yourself to the neighbours when your house is already on fire. It’s incredibly important to identify key people and groups. It makes sense to ask your boss to help with the introductions. The list of the ten most important people that you have to meet according to your boss will come in very handy. In this, you have to realize that you will always have supporters, opponents and those you can convince with an informed opinion. Everyone has a price for which they’re prepared to accept a smaller social discomfort in return for an attractive reward.

Manage Yourself

The life of a leader is always looking for balance. Even more so during the transition. Uncertainty and lack of clarity are huge psychological pressures. During the transition, you don’t even know what you truly don’t know. You don’t have suitable support yet, and so on. On the other hand, being an independent warrior in the model of leadership is heroic suicide. As a leader, you can’t succeed alone. You always need support. One of the biggest mistakes is also crossing that stress level where stress still positively influences the way you function. On the other hand, in order to keep balance it’s important to be disciplined, plan suitably, say no when it’s necessary, reserve time for hard work, take the time for difficult decisions, focus on the process, quit early enough when necessary, and keep checking if you are on the right path. It is also important to build an appropriate work infrastructure as soon as possible, have suitable support in the family and not additional battlegrounds, and to build a suitable network of mentors and consultants.

Accelerate Everyone

The faster that your co-workers and subordinates go through the transition, the faster you will reach the breakthrough point. You shouldn’t look at the transition from a Darwinian point of view, throwing the leader or anyone in a situation and letting them swim. Instead, you should help people with the knowledge of how to successfully carry out the transition. An unsuccessful transition means a lot of damage for the individual as well as for the company. Meanwhile, the knowledge of how to successfully carry out the transition means a faster contribution of value in the company and a shining future in your new career position.

Gavin’s expertise and passion lies in people & business growth. After studying Engineering, then Marketing and ongoing studies with the IECL, Gavin has created an extensive network and deep relationships with Executives whom have engaged him for both Search & Selection and human capital advice across Australia since 1998.