3 Sentence Summary
In this book The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins provides new leaders with the strategies they need for success. He covers how to shorten your learning curve, build momentum, and make the most of your first 90 days in any management role. This book is essential for anyone starting out in a new position or looking for a promotion.
Summary Read Time: Less than 5 minutes
Actual Book Length: 304
First Published in: 2003
Below is the detailed yet quick summary of the book:
Being a successful leader requires more than just knowing what to do and taking quick action. It’s important for new leaders to spend their first 90 days in the role listening, learning, and understanding what it is they need to do in order to be successful. This includes getting to know their employees, the organization’s goals, and how the company functions.
While leaders often face pressure to act quickly, they should understand the current status quo, take time to meet with and assess their employees, and work with their bosses to align on a vision for success, before implementing any changes. This way, they can make sure they are taking the right action that will lead to success.
The early days of a leadership transition can be crucial in setting the tone for long-term success. In those days, it’s important for new executives to focus on creating early wins that align with the goals of the executive team. Learn the company’s organizational structure to fit their needs, and understand how the company is perceived by the public. By focusing on these key areas, executives can set themselves up for a successful leadership tenure. We will discuss how to achieve all this as per Michael Watkins shared methods.
First Impressions & Importance For Long Term Success
Leaders need to be careful of their first actions because they can make or break their success. If they utilize their positive moment and take advantage of any opportunity for an early win, they will set themselves up not only for short-term success but long-term success as well. On the other hand, any negative actions will have far-reaching negative repercussions not just for the leader but also for their team.
First impressions matter, whether we like it or not. According to Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist Amy Cuddy, new professional relationships begin with two questions: can I trust this person, and can I respect this person? If leaders want to develop long-lasting, successful professional relationships with their team, providing positive answers to these questions is essential. However, first impressions take only seconds to form.
In today’s world, a person’s first impression of someone is often based on their appearance – even if they’ve never met in person. However, as a leader, it’s important to take control of your own narrative and make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.
A leader’s goal is to reach their break-even point, which is the point when they have completed their training and onboarding, and have contributed as much value to the company as they have received in education. Leaders should always be striving to improve and learn so that they can eventually reach this point where they are equally valuable to the company.
Professional Reputations Shape Careers
A person’s reputation is important, especially when it comes to the hiring process. Many hiring managers will do extra research to make sure they’re hiring quality candidates with a good reputation and work history. Therefore, any mistakes that leaders have made in their past job could damage their credibility, not only at that present company but even when seeking a new position in a different company.
Good credibility is more important than ever because the workforce has become increasingly mobile in recent years. Employees are changing jobs more frequently, which means that correctly transitioning into a new role at a new company can have a significant impact on someone’s career. If someone transitions into a more important or visible role and then makes a misstep or poor first impression, their professional reputation can be damaged and their whole career could be ruined.
Although, changing careers does not always have to be a physical move to a bigger or more important role. Employees often change roles within the same company, or even take on new responsibilities that may not come with an official title or role change. While these job changes might not be as noticeable, they can be just as important to an employee’s career and reputation.
Define Success Along with The Company Hierarchy
Leaders are not only responsible for their own employees, but they are also accountable to their bosses. Executives and their superiors should set clear expectations for what success looks like in the specific leadership role as soon as possible. This will help ensure that everyone is on the same page and knows what is expected of them.
Leaders should sit down with their supervisors to establish an understanding of their role-specific expectations, the resources available to them, and how their goals fit into the company’s goals. They should also discuss their work style and what they need from their supervisor to help them grow. This discussion will help ensure that both the leader and their supervisor are on the same page and that the leader has a clear understanding of what is expected of them.
Tailor Strategies Around Your Organization Type
The STARS acronym stands for 5 types of organizations. They are as follows: Startup, Turnaround, Accelerated Growth, Realignment, and Sustaining Success. As a new leader, it’s important to understand which type of organization you will be entering so that you can adjust your leadership style accordingly for the best chance at success.
Different types of organizations pose different kinds of challenges – so it’s important for successful leaders to have strategies up their sleeve that can address each one appropriately. However, there can sometimes be more than one type of organization present in the same company. For example, some startups might also enter an accelerated growth phase if they are doing well. In this case, the leader would need to have strategies for both types of organizations in order to be successful.
Startups tend to experience several common challenges during their organizational journey. One of these includes attracting and retaining strong and qualified employees. Furthermore, it can be difficult to establish each employee’s role within the company when everyone is still getting acquainted with the organization’s culture and how it operates.
An accelerated growth company is scaling up and increasing its customer base. A realignment company is also making changes to its business structure but does not need as dramatic of a change as a complete turnaround.
A company that is sustaining success has already achieved a level of success and recognition but needs to maintain that high level of success without any errors. If a privately owned, highly rated, nationally recognized hospital gets a new executive, they will rarely receive recognition when things go right. But if any mistakes are made, they could be life-threatening and cause scandal and negative media attention. Therefore, it is the executive’s job to ensure all processes are made as mistake-proof as possible.
Importance of Early Wins
Leaders need to focus on achieving early wins in their first 90 days at a new organization. This will serve as proof of their competency in their new role and help establish a strong first impression. However, while small, easy victories are a quick way to get early wins, they will also not make a significant difference in the long run. Rather than focus on low-hanging fruit. New leaders should aim to achieve early wins that will significantly benefit the company based on their STARS position, and that align with their boss’s priorities.
Listen, Learn, And Understand Before Implementing Changes
Leaders can set themselves up for success by taking the time to learn about the company before taking any action. We all often suffer from something called the “action imperative,” which is the tendency to make changes quickly when we enter a new role. Even after their initial research period, leaders should understand that immediate change is not always the best course of action.
Leaders are often guilty of coming into new roles with pre-existing assumptions about how things should work. They enter the new workplace with ideas about what has been successful for them in the past, but just because something worked in a previous company, it does not automatically mean it will work in their new job. Leaders need to be open to new ideas and new methods of doing things in order to be successful in their new role.
Align Organizational Structure For Success
A company’s success is hinged on the alignment of four core elements of organizational structure:
- Strategic direction and vision
- Skill sets
- Organizational units
- Work processes
If these elements are out of sync, it’s up to the new leader to make changes to the organization’s structure to bring them back into alignment. This is often one of the first challenges a new leader faces during their first 90 days.
Building A Successful Team
For new leaders to be successful, they need to focus on building a positive relationship with their direct reports as well as other people in the company who could help them achieve their goals. Leaders should also focus on developing strong personal relationships outside of work. A strong support structure is essential for maintaining balance and performing at your best.
New leaders should take the time to get to know their employees. They should assess each employee’s performance and try to understand not only how well they are performing, but also why they are performing that way. An employee that may seem to be underperforming could be underutilized by a previous manager and their skills and talents never given the chance to shine. Leaders should also give employees the opportunity to provide feedback on the leader’s performance.