How to get a fast start to your first 90 days in the role (or the new strategy)


After I wrote this article in Media Village last November, a friend shared with me a book that they have used as a bible throughout their corporate career.

The first page reads: “Presidents of the United States get 100 days to prove themselves. You get 90. The actions you take in the first few months in a new role will determine your success or failure. Failure in a new assignment can end a promising career.  But a successful transition is more than just avoiding failure because, for every leader that fails outright, there are many others who survive but do not realise their full potential and therefore lose opportunities to advance their careers and help their organisations thrive”.

This is the opening advice from possibly the best book for anyone taking on a new leadership role within an organisation. Not just a marketing leadership role. This book is for any leader. From the CEO of an S&P 500 company to the divisional manager of a branch office in Slough (UK), or Scranton (USA) and in offices around the world.

“The First 90 Days. Proven strategies for getting up to speed faster and smarter”, by Michael. D Watkins has been around since 2003 and has been updated and revised, most recently on the tenth anniversary in 2013.

The 10 separate directives

Watkins’s approach is to break down a new manager’s first 90 days into 10 separate directives:

  1. Prepare Yourself: Prepare to make a mental break from your old job as you prepare to take charge of the new role.
  2. Accelerate Your Learning: Plan to learn and see this as an investment. Consider the best sources of insight.
  3. Match Strategy to Situation: Avoid “one best way of thinking” and instead diagnose the situation to develop the right strategies.
  4. Negotiate Success: Build a productive working relationship with your boss, by defining expectations and agreeing the situation, how to work together and resources required.
  5. Secure Early Wins: Build personal credibility as you identify A-list priorities, get started on improving organisation performance, and share a compelling vision.
  6. Achieve Alignment: Be an organisational architect, aligning strategy, structure, systems, skills and culture. Very much like the Transformation Cycle we use at TrinityP3.
  7. Build Your Team: Managing changing your team or building a new team, implementing organisational architecture and improving the team processes.
  8. Create Alliances: Thinking beyond authority, identifying those critical for support, and mapping networks of influence.
  9. Manage Yourself: Avoiding the vicious cycles of leadership, building pillars of self-efficacy and building an advice-and-counsel network.
  10. Accelerate Everyone: Develop a framework for team development, to identify and develop high potential leaders and strengthen succession planning.

Transition Traps

It is surprising how few marketing leaders had heard of this book. In sharing the book and insights with a handful of senior marketers and their agency counterparts, few knew of Watkins’s work. But all were interested. Especially when the conversation turned to some of the transition traps Watkins had identified for leaders, including:

  • Sticking with what you know – too often people fall into the trap of thinking they need to do the same thing they did previously. When in fact this is an opportunity to drop some actions and embrace new competencies.
  • Falling prey to the action imperative – trying hard to put your own stamp too early on the organisation and your role, and not making enough time to learn the organisation first. Like the CMO that comes straight into the role and immediately pitches the incumbent agencies?
  • Setting unrealistic expectations – then finding yourself in the position of doing well but still failing the expectations of the rest of the leadership team. Better to negotiate and agree those expectations first.
  • Attempting to do too much – there is a lot to do anyway but rushing off in every direction means people get confused and you fail to marshal your resources as required. Imagine if you could get someone to help you get the groundwork done?
  • Coming in with ‘the answer’ – rather than coming in with your mind made up, try taking the time to understand the issues and develop support for good solutions. Perhaps even having someone help you get this done sooner.
  • Engaging in the wrong type of learning – investing too much time and effort on learning the business and missing the opportunity to understand the cultural and relationship insights, essential to operating effectively within the organisation.
  • Neglecting horizontal relationships – focusing too much on the vertical relationships up to your boss and down to your direct reports and team and not investing the time to better understand your peers and other important influencers in the organisation.

These are common traps and many people have fallen into them in the past. The important thing is to make sure you avoid them in the future.

Interestingly, while the book provides a clear plan for a new leader, the approach could also be applied in developing a new strategic direction. In these times of pandemic disruption, marketers are increasingly mandated to develop a new strategic direction. What better way than drawing a line and using the 90-day plan to develop and drive this transformation?

If you could use some assistance, we can help. TrinityP3 can provide you with a fast start to your first 90-days. By identifying the strategic, structural and capability issues, challenges and opportunities in the first month. This gives you time to navigate and align to the organisational culture while developing your plans on where you want to be, and how to get there. It sets you up for success by reaching your value break-even point sooner.

After all, you have ten days fewer than a US President to get it right. Maybe some kind of help is a good idea….

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