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The First 90 Days–Critical To Management Success

by David Brock on June 1st, 2011

The first 90 days in any job is critical to your success. What you accomplish in your first 90 days sets the pattern for you and the organization over a much longer period. Everyone knows this, unfortunately, too many squander the opportunity to have their greatest impact by acting too soon.

There’s this funny thing that happens to someone new into a management or leadership role. There is the urge to take action immediately, to put your stamp on the organization, to bend the organization to your direction. This is almost always a path to failure–both individually and for the organization.

Great leaders are very disciplined when they move into a new management role. Rather than taking action immediately, they take some time—usually it is roughly 90 days. They use that time to ask questions, to listen, to learn, to figure out what’s happening. Great leaders wander all over—they talk to their people, they talk to customers, they talk to other people in the organization. They are constantly wandering, questioning, listening, exploring.

They are trying to get their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening, they are trying to figure out how the organization works, what needs to get done. They analyze reams of data, trying to understand performance–then using that data to talk to people to get better insight into what drove the numbers. They look at processes, systems, and tools, always assessing—do we have the right ones? Are we using them as effectively as possible. They don’t restrict their conversations to just their teams and customers, they seek input and insight from other parts of the organization–those that their teams work with. They seek insight and views from their peers, from their manager and from executives in the organization.

They are in search of all the pieces of the puzzle, constantly trying to put them together to figure out what has happened in the past, what is happening now, and to use those insights as the foundation for establishing their change initiatives. They rush to learn as much as possible–but don’t rush to conclusions or judgements.

Only after they have had a chance to figure things out, then they start developing ideas and strategies about what they intend to do about it. They develop views about what changes need to be made and how to implement the changes–but still they don’t rush into implementation. They take the time to test the ideas and socialize them. They want to get input on the ideas and strategies, tuning them to have greater impact.

They want to engage people in thinking about them, in adopting them, owning them and wanting to be part of the change. They know they can’t drive the change by themselves, but must align and engage everyone in implementing the change. They take the time to go through this process, assuring their people are behind them, their customers support them, the rest of the company supports them, and their manager and the executives support them. It becomes a team driving the change, not the managers imposing the change.

Generally, this takes 90 days. But on the 91st, everyone knows what they need to do, how to do it, how they will be measured, and when it needs to get done.  On the 91st, they’ve internalized these and own it as their own.  It’s no longer the “new manager’s plan,”  it’s their plan.

Great leaders take this time. They know they will be much more successful, they know that by taking their time, change will happen faster.

When you move into leadership positions, do you have a 90 day plan? Do you share it with everyone? Do you seek to first learn before acting? Do you make everyone part of the solution? If you do, your success rate will skyrocket!

From → Leadership

  1. Hein van der Wildt permalink

    Dear David,

    I believe most everybody will agree and subscribe to your approach.
    However do they have the tools to efficiently execute this delicate process?
    Do they know how to carry out an operational audit without being seen as an auditor? These tools are available and should be discussed in detail.

    With kind regards,


    • Good comment Hein. Interestingly, a lot of the “tools” to do this are precisely the same used by great sales people. We are trained in great discovery processes in working with our customers, we apply the same methods and tools within our organization to understand what’s happening with the organization. We develop solutions that are cost justified, present them and gain support from our customers—we apply the same within the organization.

      A great resource for all managers is “The First 90 Days,” by Michael Watkin.

  2. amanda hopper permalink

    I have found this very useful, as I have an interview where i have to describe my first 100 days in the job

    • Amanda, good luck in the interview–I gave you 10 days buffer, you can use them for whatever you want 😉

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