SkyeTeam Book Review: The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins

SkyeTeam Leadership Development Best Business Books

I LOVE this book. There, I’ve said it.SkyeTeam Leadership Development

In fact, I have loved this book since the first edition was published back in 2003. “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins has been a staple on my book shelf and a resource that I have recommended in all our leadership and management programs. When I saw that there was a new and updated version I was interested to see what it contained.

First of all, the title is a little misleading. I have recommended this book to anyone who is in “transition”. Whether it’s the first 90 days in a new company, a new role, a new project, a new team the tools and resources that Michael Watkins outlines in his book are invaluable. They are particularly pertinent when you are experiencing “the new transition” but are as equally valuable if you are experiencing “a renew transition” – a change in strategy, priority etc.

One of the main reasons this book has appealed, and stayed a firm favorite is the pragmatic approach and solutions that it provides. Questions, templates, calls to action that you can apply immediately. This is not a theoretical book, it is a pragmatic toolkit.

Why should you read it?

All of us experience change and transitions in our career. Rather than adopting a “Sink-or-Swim” approach to successfully navigating these wouldn’t it be better to have a plan?  The honeymoon period of any transition is an exciting time, however it also provides for the greatest vulnerability, and your success (or failure) is determined in short order, the first 90 days.  Mistakes made now don’t just impact business and team results, they also leave a lasting mark on your reputation.

The new updated version of the book provides additional “how-to’s”, more explanation of the risks and opportunities available during transitions, as well as recommendations to make an informed decision on how to proceed. There are predictable surprises and transition traps that we all are prone to. I know I have made them at different times in my career. A deliberate approach can help you to avoid those pitfalls that can hamper success, not just for the immediate period, but stay with you and impact your future career aspirations.

  1.  Prepare yourself. Making the mental break from your old job and letting go of old responsibilities. 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. Investing time and effort to understand the new rules of engagement. Especially if you are moving to a new organization you need to spend time understanding the 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. Avoid the single right answer approach. There is no one silver bullet or set of rules that will guarantee success during a transition. However, diagnosing the business situation (Start-Up, Turn-Around, Sustain-Success, Realignment, Rapid Growth) and identifying the potential opportunities and challenges with each will allow you to flex your style and approach to ensure a greater chance of a successful outcome.
  4. Negotiate success. One of the many chapters that focus on the importance of building effective relationships that ensure success. In this chapter the focus is on the relationship you build with your new boss. Even if your boss doesn’t change there are five critical conversations you need to have to ensure that expectations are aligned and ensure that you are both meeting expectations. These critical conversations explore the situation, expectations, style, resources, and your personal development.
  5. Secure early wins. Rushing in and taking action can back fire. In this chapter you learn to identify the early wins that will build your credibility and create momentum. How to decide what to do when everything needs doing!
  6. Achieve alignment. One of the biggest potential risks is moving ahead without considering the impact of your actions up and down stream, and also the potential need to make changes to the organizational structure. A key skill of navigating transitions is understanding the role of organizational architect.
  7. Build your team. Whether you are inheriting a team, or building a new team, you will need to evaluate the individual team members. Having the right people, in the right roles, identifying the individual and collective strengths and weakness allows you to build a team that delivers results for the long term. You need to make the tough calls, and the right calls as needed to build a high performing team.
  8. Create Alliances. Having just published my own book on the importance of strategic relationships this chapter is like music to my ears. Too often leaders overlook the importance of cultivating winning relationships across the organization, or simply focus on the usual suspects, the vertical relationships (boss and own team). Success depends on your ability to influence people outside of your team and your direct line of control. Identifying who these critical stakeholders are, diagnosing the health of those relationships and implementing the tactics to create supportive alliances are vital to achieve your goals.
  9. Manage Yourself. This chapter explores how to avoid losing perspective, from becoming isolated, or making bad decisions. Building the right advice-and-counsel network (and it may not be the same people that you needed in your previous role) is an indispensable resource
  10. Accelerate everyone. By it’s nature you can’t experience a transition in isolation. Whether you are new to the company or not, everyone around you – direct reports, bosses, and peers – are all going through their own transition, as they get used to working with YOU!  You have a responsibility to ensure that everyone successfully navigates this transition in a way that sets you all up for success. After all, your success depends on it!

So there you have it. 10 compelling areas that you can’t afford to overlook and are explored in detail within “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins. If you haven’t got your copy then don’t wait. Get it now and start your own 90 day success plan.