The First 90 Days: Critical to Management Success

By taking the time to understand a new environment, great leaders make the right change happen.

The first 90 days in any job are critical to your success. What you accomplish in your first 90 days sets the pattern for you and the organisation 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 in a management or leadership role. There is the urge to take action immediately, to put your stamp on the organisation, to bend the organisation to your direction. This is almost always a path to failure – both individually and for the organisation.

Finger on the pulse

Great leaders are very disciplined when they move into a new management role. Rather than taking action immediately, they take some time – usually about 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 organisation. They are constantly wandering, questioning, listening, exploring.

They are trying to get their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening, to figure out how the organisation works and what needs to get done. They analyse reams of data, trying to understand performance – then they 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 organisation – those that their teams work with. They seek insight and views from their peers, from their managers and executives in the organisation.

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 figure things out, do they start developing ideas and strategies. 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 socialise them. They want to get input on the ideas and strategies, tuning them for 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 managers and the executives support them. It becomes a team driving the change, not the managers imposing the change.

Gain insight, then act

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 internalised and taken ownership of these steps.

It’s no longer the “new manager’s plan,” it’s their plan. 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.