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Book:  The First 90 Days

Author:  Michael Watkins

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Watkins, M. (2013). The first 90 days : proven strategies for getting up to speed faster and smarter. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Review Press.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. No matter where you land, the keys to effective delegation remain much the same: you build a team of competent people whom you trust, you establish goals and metrics to monitor their progress, you translate higher-level goals into specific responsibilities, and you monitor and reinforce. (pg. 22)

  2. Don’t surprise your boss - it’s no fun bringing your boss bad news.  However, most bosses consider it a far greater sin not to report emerging problems early enough. It’s usually best to give your new boss a heads-up as soon as you become aware of a problem. (pg. 90)

  3. Must have an “expectations conversation” with your new boss so that you understand and clarify expectations.  You need to agree on goals and on timelines.  Furthermore, you need to agree on how your boss will measure progress. (pg. 94)


Other Key Ideas:

Leadership is ultimately about influence and leverage.  To be successful, you need to mobilize the energy of many others in your organization.  If you do the right things, then your vision, your expertise, and your drive can propel you forward. (pg. 8)

Transition failures happen because new leaders either misunderstand the essential demands of the situation or lack the skill and flexibility to adapt to them. (pg. 9)​

The higher you go, the more decision making become political and influence and less about authority.  First, the issues become much more complex and ambiguous. Second, at a higher level the other players are more capable and have stronger egos. (pg. 23)

The good news about moving up is that you get a broader view of the business and more latitude to shape it.  The bad news is that you are farther from the front lines and more likely to receive filtered information. You need to establish communication channels to stay connected with what is happening where the action is. You might want to meet regularly with groups of frontline employees without undermining the integrity of the chain of command. (pg. 23)​

No matter how well you think you understand what you’re expected to do, be sure to check and recheck expectations once you formally join your new organization.  (pg. 29)​

Negotiating success means proactively engaging with your new boss to shape the game so that you have a fighting chance to achieving desired goals.  Many new leaders just play the game, and failing as a result The alternative is to shape the game by negotiating with your boss to establish realistic expectations, reach consensus, and secure resources.  (pg. 88)​​

Must have a “style conversation” with your new boss.  This conversation is about how you and your new boss can best interact on an ongoing basis.  What forms of communication does he prefer? How often? What kinds of decisions does he was to be consulted on? (pg. 95)​

When you arrive, people will rapidly being to assess you and your capabilities.  Like it or not, you will start your role with a reputation, deserved or not. The risk is that your reputation will become reality, because people tend to focus on information that confirms their beliefs and screen out information that doesn’t - the so-called confirmation bias.... Your early actions, good and bad, will shape perceptions.  Once opinion about you had begun to harden, it is difficult to change...Your earliest actions will have a disproportionate influence on how you’re perceived (pg. 123)

Early actions often get transformed into stories, which can define you as a hero or villain. Do you take the time informally introduce yourself to the support staff, or do you focus only on your boss, peers, and direct reports? (pg. 128)

You should look for ways to signal to the top performers that you recognize their capabilities.  A little reassurance goes a long way. (pg. 169)

Establishing and sticking to clear and explicit performance metrics is the best way to encourage accountability.  Select performance measures that will let you know as clearly as possible whether a team member has achieved her goals.  Avoid ambiguously defined goals...instead define goals in terms that can be quantified. (pg. 183)​​

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