The Spectrum Guide to your 1st 90 days


Your 1st 90 days in a new leadership role – whether it be with your existing organisation or a new employer – will largely dictate not only whether you are successful, but how successful.

It is at this time that you and your organisation will be most vulnerable: you will lack both the detailed information and the relationships necessary to create success.

Your earliest actions will have a disproportionate influence on how you are perceived.  New leaders are perceived as more credible than they are: opinions form based on little data. It is hard to change these initial perceptions.

The stakes are high for both the individual executive and the organisation. Despite the importance of such transitions, there is little help in ensuring such transitions are successful: it’s sink or swim in most environments: according to Fortune magazine studies have shown that more than 40-50% of senior outside hires fail to achieve the desired results.

However, by following a systematic approach that enables the executive to quickly understand the challenges associated with a new role, significant benefits result for the organisation.

Creating momentum in the early days, building credibility internally and externally, mobilising the team, and delivering some early wins are the cornerstones of a successful 1st 90 days, by which time you will have successfully built the platform for longer term success.

The faster everyone settles in, the faster the benefit to the organisation, and the more likely you are to succeed in your new role. The quicker you can get your direct reports up to speed the more you will help your own performance

Successful adoption of a standard framework for accelerating transitions can yield big returns for organisations.

The 5 stages of any 90 day plan should be:

  1. learn
  2. design the change
  3. build support
  4. implement the change
  5. observe results

Follow this roadmap for creating your 90 day success plan:

Design: Bring organisation structure in line with its strategy

  • The higher you are in an organisation the more important organisation design is – the strategy, structure, skills and systems needed to deliver results through others
  • Identify potential defects in the organisation’s design and define a plan for correcting them
  • Be conscious of an organisation’s limited ability to absorb major strategic shifts

Team: Your capacity to select the best people for the right roles will be critical

  • Meet individuals one-on-one
  • Assess existing team members – those that leave should do so with minimal damage to short term performance
  • Signal early to the top performers that you recognise their status
  • Recruit the new people you need
  • Make changes quickly and then focus on team building once your squad is in place.
  • Establish a framework that encourages team work. Set goals and associated incentives that pushes the team in the desired direction
  • Fully involve HR

Relationships: Identify and build relationships internally and externally with those whose support is critical to your success

  • Your success depends on the support of people outside your line of command
  • Identify key influencers and groups in the organisation
  • Get your boss on side. Gain a respected supporter and others will follow

Your Role: Don’t assume that what has made you successful thus far in your career will continue to work

  • Make the mental transition between your old and new role
  • Strong functional performance is different to taking on a broader, cross-functional role
  • Start planning and setting milestones the moment you learn you might get a new role
  • Think about your weaknesses that might be exposed in a new role and ensure you have an action plan for them including having the team members with the skills you lack
  • Expect early tests of your authority and ability: establish limits that are seen as firm and fair
  • Don’t make costly assumptions or arrive with the answer
  • Quick decisions may be needed but acting decisively and early may be wrong
  • Listening equals increased credibility and influence

Environment: understand it and apply bespoke solutions

  • Learn: Identify what you need to learn about its markets, products, technology, systems, structures, culture and politics – and how you will learn most efficiently.  This equips you to make good business decisions faster
  • Diagnose the business situation accurately and clarify its challenges and opportunities. Tailor strategy accordingly
  • Don’t arrive with preconceived ideas or solutions, even if they have worked in the past

Wins: Early wins build your personal credibility and create organisational momentum

  • Focus on the key opportunities that you are most likely to win
  • Think about which wins will best build momentum
  • Understand what is viewed as a win
  • Address the problems your boss cares about
  • Deliver the win in a way which emphasises the behaviour you wish to instil in an organisation
  • Early wins give you the mandate to push on
  • Willing to make tough calls in a humane way
  • Evolution not revolution
  • Focus on problems that can be tackled quickly with modest expenditure, yet visible benefits
  • Modest early improvements lead to more fundamental changes

Reporting: Build a good relationship with your new boss and manage his/her expectations. Develop and gain consensus for your 90 day plan

  • Proactively engage with your new boss to shape strategy – don’t expect him/her to reach out to you – you’ll need to discuss expectations, work style and resource requirements early
  • Accelerate relationship building with your direct reports
  • The higher you rise through an organisation, the greater the autonomy you are likely to get
  • Present a high-level bulleted 90 day plan and get approval – set yourself weekly goals and review with your boss monthly

Perspective: You’ll be working extremely hard – the risks of losing perspective, getting isolated and making bad calls are ever present. The right advice and counsel network will be indispensable

  • Don’t go it alone
  • Build your support and counsel network
  • Follow a consistent structured approach to your 1st 90 days


Further Reading: The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins (Harvard Business School Press)