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The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter

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Whether challenged with taking on a startup, turning a business around, or inheriting a high-performing unit, a new leader's success or failure is determined within the first 90 days on the job.

In this hands-on guide, Michael Watkins, a noted expert on leadership transitions, offers proven strategies for moving successfully into a new role at any point in one's career. The First 90 Days provides a framework for transition acceleration that will help leaders diagnose their situations, craft winning transition strategies, and take charge quickly.

Practical examples illustrate how to learn about new organizations, build teams, create coalitions, secure early wins, and lay the foundation for longer-term success. In addition, Watkins provides strategies for avoiding the most common pitfalls new leaders encounter, and shows how individuals can protect themselves-emotionally as well as professionally-during what is often an intense and vulnerable period.

Concise and actionable, this is the survival guide no new leader should be without.

304 pages, Kindle Edition

First published September 18, 2003

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Michael D. Watkins

57 books98 followers

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Profile Image for Erika RS.
701 reviews182 followers
January 3, 2015
I think I must not be the target audience for this book because I found it dull. The book had a number of useful techniques but it was definitely targeted toward leaders in more traditional companies than my workplace. I would like to read a book with fundamentally the same content but written for folks in the more casual parts of the software industry.

Since I did find the book useful but boring, I include a detailed summary below.

The first 90 days after a transition are critical for establishing yourself in the new position. Companies often fail to prepare leaders for successful transitions.

There are key steps you can take to help your transition succeed:

Promote Yourself. Make a mental break from the old job. Don't assume that what made you successful before will make you successful now. Be aware of what sort of problems you'll need to solve and how they differ from the types of problems you've been good at solving in the past.

Accelerate Your Learning. Create a plan for learning about the past, present, and future of your new organization. Look at both concrete facts and subjective impressions. Learn from internal sources and external sources. Start learning what you can before you've transitioned into your new role. Share and discuss your learning plan and learnings with your team and your boss(es).

Learn iteratively. Focus on learning the most important things first and then coming back and adding more depth and breadth. When meeting with individuals, ask everyone the same set of questions in the same order; this gives you a set of easy to compare answers.

Match Strategy to Situation. There are some common categories of situations a leader will be taking on. Knowing what type of situation you are taking on can make the difference between success and failure.

The four most common situation types are startups, realignments, turnarounds, and sustaining success. Each has different challenges. For example, in a turnaround, you don't have a lot of time to succeed but everyone acknowledges that change is necessary, while in a realignment you may have time but people may disagree on the need for change.

Secure Early Wins. Don't get lost in the big changes thatyou see when you enter an organization. Focus on securing early (generally small) wins to help build momentum. This helps you focus in the early days, and it also helps to build your credibility with the people you're working with. Ideally, the size of your wins will increase over time and all work toward some long term goal.

This chapter provided a valuable framework for the elements that must be necessary before a person can enact change. There must be sufficient awareness that change is needed. There must be a diagnosis of what needs to be changed and why. There must be a vision and strategy for change. There must be a plan for change. Finally, there must be people who support implementing the plan. Before trying to cause change, a leader should look at each of these elements and strengthen any that are weak.

Negotiate Success. You are responsible for setting up a productive relationship with your boss, even if your styles differ. Use conversations with your boss to set clear expectations of what you plan to get done when and potential opportunities or issues. Don't use these meetings to go over checklists or complain fruitlessly.

The book suggests 5 types of conversations you should have with your boss. These conversations are roughly chronological, but will repeat over time as situations change.

The situational diagnosis is a chance for you to understand your boss's perspective on the current business situation. The expectations conversation is where you work to understand what you need to get done, what success looks like, and how performance is measured.

In the style conversation, you'll learn how to communicate most effectively with your boss, being on the lookout for ways their preferred style differs from yours. Once you know what you're trying to accomplish, you'll need to have a conversation about what resources you need.

Finally, once you've proven your credibility with small wins, it's a good time to talk about your own personal development. These conversations should inform your 90 day plan, and you should also present your plan to your boss to get their buy in and feedback.

Achieve Alignment. The insight of this chapter is that the strategy, structure, systems, skills, and culture of an organization all need to be aligned to achieve success. The strategy should lead the direction, with structure, systems, and skills working to support that strategy. Culture is the often invisible background that all of these systems work against. It is the hardest to change but often the most influential.

Build Your Team. Obviously, having the right team is critical to success. What's less obvious is that it's important for a new leader to restructure their team quickly to avoid the expectation that change is not going to happen. But the team should not be changed too quickly, because a new leader has to get to know the existing team and too much churn causes instability.

What I found most valuable from this chapter was the list of 6 criteria you can use to evaluate members of your team. Competence evaluates whether or not they have the technical ability necessary for the job. Judgement evaluates whether or not the person makes good decisions, especially in difficult situations. It's also important that a team member bring the right kind of energy to the team. They need to be able to focus on the right priorities, and they need to have good relationships with the rest of the team. Finally, you need to have people you can trust to follow through on their commitments.

The book suggests dividing 100 points among the 6 criteria to weight their value and then evaluating each of your team members on these criteria. I found this framework to be useful because I find that, when it comes to evaluating people on my team, it's often hard to assess non-technical skills consistently across people and across review sessions. Explicitly defining and weighting the list of criteria would help to make evaluation more consistent. I plan to use this technique in the future.

I also appreciated the range of categories for team members after the initial assessment. A team member may be someone you want to keep in place, keep and develop, move to another position (that's a better fit), observe for awhile (and help them develop), replace (but not urgently), replace (urgently). This range of categories provides room for people who could succeed on your team but aren't currently, a situation where it's easy for things to go badly if you don't work to be aware of the possibilities.

Create Coalitions. To enact change, you need support. It's important to figure out who are supporters, opponents, and convincibiles. To turn convincibles into supporters, you want to change their perception of the choice they have to make. Often, maintaining the status quo is seen as zero cost and change is seen as high cost. Thus, as a general strategy, to get support for change, you want to raise the perceived cost of the status quo and lower the cost of change. Bribes and threats are two blunt ways of doing this, but better is to create compelling framing arguments, setting up action-forcing events such as commitments to take particular actions, getting people to change their behavior (which can lead to them changing their minds), and leveraging small commitments that will lead to larger change (e.g., get someone to come to a meeting, then review a design, then evaluate a prototype, etc.).

Keep Your Balance. All these techniques for getting off to a strong start are useful, but they're all for naught if you let yourself get overwhelmed by the change. To maintain balance, you need to adopt strategies for success, use discipline in executing those strategies, and build your support system.

Key to maintaining discipline are taking time to plan, deferring commitment to prevent yourself from becoming too busy, setting aside time for hard work, taking time to step back from high stakes situations, focusing on the process by which you try to implement change and how others perceive it, and staying aware of how your feeling (perhaps by using structured reflection), and knowing when to quit.

Your support system needs to include not just your professional support system at work and outside of work. It also needs to include your family. Change in your job can often mean change for your family. Keeping your family healthy is key to preventing a destructive feedback loop.

Expedite Everyone. Finally, for these techniques to be most effective, make sure that everyone is using structured transition techniques. As a leader, it's easiest to spread structured transitions to your team, but you can also work to spread it to your peers. If everyone can transition more effectively, then the company as a whole will be more successful.
Profile Image for Themistocles.
388 reviews14 followers
November 22, 2009
Well, let's put it this way: if you need this book, then you obviously have no place in managing anything, and your pet goldfish is probably already dead out of neglect and lack of food.

Really?? Is this one of the best business books of the last years? Published by Harvard Press? For the love of god... As Dilbert would say, I was blinded by the obvious time and again and got tired of the oh-so-original (NOT!) charts and diagrams very soon. What practical advice the author gives could have been summed up in 50 pages or so. The case studies are nicely drawn, but very few and very short. The rest is page filling.

I guess the only positive about this book is that it gives you a time frame to accomplish things, but even this is not always possible; for instance, it says that for the first month you just listen and listen... but this is not always possible, certainly not in companies with no 'leader assimilation' period.

Better spend the money to buy a round of doughnuts for your coworkers, it'll be more worth it.
Profile Image for Ryan.
283 reviews25 followers
April 15, 2010
I'm very skeptical of business books - I see them as slightly more serious versions of Get Rich Quick books and Self Help books. But this was actually helpful. As someone who's worked in less traditional office and business settings, starting a new job in a real organization would be a very different experience. The First 90 Days provided some productive ways of thinking about how offices and coworker and boss relationships work. It also gave strategies of thinking about how to hit the ground running in any new situation. Planning for goals after the first day, week, month, two months, and three months helps you think about what you might want to be doing. Even for less senior people, the chapters that go through how a new CEO starts surveying her team and figuring out who should stay and go are interesting - you end up looking at a common situation through another set of eyes. Other helpful thoughts ranged from how you want to introduce yourself to new coworkers, how to organize priorities, and how to split up what you need to learn into easily manageable chunks. Much better than I thought it was going to be.
Profile Image for Kristine Morris.
561 reviews13 followers
July 17, 2012
If I was transitioning into a more senior role and I read this book, I think I'd quit before I even got started. There's a lot of organizational development, change management, people management, knowledge management, to scare anyone off - especially if you are trying to get a handle on these things in the first 90 days! While it proposes that the 90 day strategy is useful for managers at all levels, it is skewed towards senior levels and Watkins' advice "even if this doesn't apply to you, read it anyway" seems a bit disingenuous considering the time crunch faced by a new manager.

I suspect that on a second reading some practical checklists (many the chapter summaries) would prove somewhat useful. The most important thing about the book is it's premise. You need to plan for your transition and not just wing it.
Profile Image for Bob Selden.
Author 7 books34 followers
August 4, 2008
As a keen student of new manager behaviour always on the lookout for new ideas, I picked up “The First 90 Days” with great anticipation. Michael Watkins sets out to provide new managers (he calls them “leaders”) with a 90 day plan for taking over in a new role. There’s lots to recommend this book. There’s also lots to question.

In “The First 90 Days”, the author stresses the importance of building momentum during the critical transition phase from new manager to successful manager. A 90 day acceleration plan is suggested that includes 10 transition challenges ranging from “promote yourself” through “score early wins”, to “expedite everyone”. One needs to look further than the title of these challenges as they are often more than what they seem. For example, “promote yourself” has more to do with changing your perspective to fit the new role rather than self-promotion.

I particularly liked some of the practical tips included in this book, such as the “Problem Preferences Assessment” which enables the new manager to quickly select the most appropriate and rewarding problem areas to address. Also a suggestion to write yourself a letter as if you had been in the role for three years describing what others said about your success in the role, is a nice way to set a broad vision for the new manager. Chapter 5 “Negotiate Success”, which is all about managing your boss through the 90 day plan, is worth the price of this book alone.

I have three areas of criticism. Firstly, whilst the book has a fantastic array of suggestions, strategies, tips etc, I feel it would take more than 90 days to implement them all, let alone do the work that is required in the role. As such, it would make a great text for students of management, but could overwhelm the new manager looking for some quick or directed advice.

Secondly, although the author stresses otherwise, the book seems more suited to upper level roles than first line supervisors. For example, Chapter 6 “Achieve Alignment”, looks at quite a sophisticated process of crafting strategy, assessing coherence, assessing adequacy and modifying strategy.

Finally, I’d like to see more positive case studies to illustrate rather than the “what went wrong” scenarios provided in a number of chapters. Although in real life, we often learn more from our mistakes, in a teaching role (such as this book) it is far more effective for the reader if he or she can see what works and implement this, rather than what doesn’t. I would recommend this book as an excellent text for management students and a resource for management teachers/educators. If you’re a new manager reading “The First 90 Days”, then go straight to the practical “How to” areas, otherwise your 90 days will be up before you finish reading.
Profile Image for Scott.
404 reviews41 followers
January 30, 2018
The First 90 Days is focused on providing proven strategies for effectively getting through transitions from one job to another job or one company to another. The book is marketed at professionals in all levels of an organization, but there is a secondary emphasis on those in a leadership role. Don’t let that worry you if you are not in a formal leadership role. This book will still be helpful for you. I have read this book when I moved from a management position in one company to another. I read it again when I moved from a management position in one company to a non-management role in another company. I just finished reading for a third time while moving from one non-management role to another in the same company. It works for any material job change.

Watkins lays out his approach using 10 chapters focusing on each of the following topics:
1. Promoting yourself
2. Accelerating your learning
3. Matching strategy to the situation
4. Securing early wins
5. Negotiating success
6. Achieving alignment
7. Building your team
8. Creating coalitions
9. Keeping your balance
10. Expediting everyone

I really appreciated the chapters on accelerating my learning, negotiating success, and achieving alignment. I have found in my circumstances, there have been many times when I misread situations, failed to properly align expectations with my upline and team members, didn’t ask the right learning questions when learning new tasks and processes. This book really helps to layout simple strategies and templates for personal use that help mitigate mistakes and help you stay on track during work and business-related transitions.

In today’s business world, it seems that there is not much training available on how to successfully move from one role or job to another, let alone from one company to another. These changes can be dramatic and most onboarding lacks the information that we need most to succeed in new environments while avoiding pitfalls and political landmines. That’s why the strategies in this book are so valuable and effective. The book is a quick read, about 250 pages in length.

I found this book to be very helpful in making my own professional transitions. It helped me with strategies that increased my learning curve during the transition. It helped me with prioritizing what seemed like overwhelming expectations in the new job role. It helped me avoid some pretty important pitfalls that would have set me back professionally and socially. It helped me learn and apply key lessons into my approach and strategy that accelerated my transition into a new role or team.

Overall, I can honestly say that this book will make a difference for anyone going through a material work change, whether it is from one company to another, or one job role to another. I have successfully applied its lessons on three different occasions in my professional career and it made a remarkable difference. Trust me, if you are transitioning roles or accepting a promotion, it is well worth reading. Take notes and apply the techniques for yourself. It works.
Profile Image for Edyth.
1 review
November 5, 2012
The First 90 Days is now one of my favorites, right up there with Leadership 2.0 (a must-read for leaders). This book is a great and practical guide to help any leader transition into a new job, position, and organization—within 90 days (a critical timeframe to be considered as “hitting the ground running”). There’s a checklist at the end of every chapter to help you absorb key lessons, apply them to your situation, and tailor them to your own transition plan. The book is loaded with practical strategies, lessons, and advice for a smooth transition.

The First 90 Days - Chapter Summaries:

INTRODUCTION: THE FIRST 90 DAYS
- The actions you take in your first three months in a new job will largely determine whether you succeed or fail.

1. Promote Yourself: Make the mental break from your old job and prepare to take charge in the new one. The biggest pitfall you face is to assume that what has made you successful to this point in your career will continue to do so.

2. Accelerate Your Learning: Accelerate the learning curve as fast as you can in your new organization. Understand its markets, products, technologies, systems, structures, and culture, and politics.

3. Match Strategy to Situation: Diagnose the business situation accurately and clarify its challenges and opportunities.

4. Secure Early Wins: Early wins build your credibility and create momentum.

5. Negotiate Success: Figure out how to build a productive working relationship with your new boss and manage his/her expectations. Plan for a series of critical conversations. Develop and gain consensus on your 90-day plan.

6. Achieve Alignment: Figure out whether the organization’s strategy is sound. Bring its structure into alignment with its strategy.

7. Build Your Team: If you are inheriting a team, evaluate its members and restructure it to better meet the demands of the situation. Make tough early personnel calls.

8. Create Coalitions: Influence people outside your direct line of control. Rely on supportive alliances, internal and external, to achieve your goals.

9. Keep Your Balance: Work hard to maintain your equilibrium and preserve your ability to make good judgments, professionally and personally.

11. Expedite Everyone: Help everyone in your organization—direct reports, bosses, and peers—accelerate their own transitions. The faster this is done, the faster you can perform.

CONCLUSION: BEYOND SINK OR SWIM
- The biggest danger you face is belief in a one-size-fits-all rule for success.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,715 reviews1,147 followers
January 10, 2022
A bestselling management book which, nearly 20 years after initial publication (2003) and nearly 10 years since updating and expansion (2013 – this version) seems to remain the clear leading book on its core (and largely neglected topic) of managing transitions as a business leader (to a new industry, profession, firm, country, role, level, function etc).

The book is in no ways earth-shattering (albeit there is normally something slightly amiss with a business book which does not largely function to compile and synthesise common sense advice) but is well structured and fairly easy to read in large chunks.

The style will I think be familiar to any readers of the Harvard Business Review (whose press publishes the review) – a few anonymous anecdotes/case studies leading into advice rendered in the form of expanded bullet points and simple charts and diagrams.

The book’s key principles (actually taken from the introduction to a companion volume (Master Your Next Move) are as follows:

1 Accelerate your learning. Efficient and effective learning is a necessary foundation for making a successful transition. The faster you learn about the technical, cultural, and political dimensions of your new position or assignment, the more you'll be able to accomplish in the critical first months.

2. Match strategy to situation. Different types of business situations require you to make significant adjustments in how you approach your transition. A clear assessment of the business situation is an essential prerequisite for developing your transition plan.

3. Negotiate success. You need to figure out how to build a productive working relationship with your new manager (or managers). This means planning for a series of critical conversations about the situation, expectations, working style, and resources.

4. Achieve alignment. Armed with a deeper understanding of the business situation, your manager's expectations, and the interests of key stakeholders, you can define your vision and core objectives. Then you can develop your strategy to realize that vision and achieve your goals.

5. Build your team. Like most leaders taking on a new role, you probably don't get to build your own team; instead, you inherit your predecessor's. You must rapidly assess and reshape the team, and then align, organize, and energize it to achieve your goals.

6. Secure early wins. Getting early wins is essential in order to build your credibility and create momentum. Wins create virtuous cycles that leverage the energy you put into the organization. They create a sense that good things are happening.

7. Create alliances. You can't accomplish much on your own; you need to build alliances to support your key initiatives. This means identifying the most important people whose support you need and developing a plan for getting them onboard.

8. Manage yourself. Throughout your transition you must work hard to maintain your equilibrium, manage your energy, and preserve your ability to make good judgments. You need to be disciplined in deciding what you will and won't do, and you must invest in building and leveraging the right network of advisers.


Each principle has its own chapter with an introductory chapter on Preparation and a concluding one on how to spread the transition principles across the company.

Overall a worthwhile read.
Profile Image for Amy.
2,542 reviews380 followers
November 20, 2020
One of these days I am going to stop reading these business books with the blind hope that one will click. They all just sound the same: practical if you're joining some startup as a CEO and happen to be a Harvard yuppie, but not really for normal people.
And if you're a Harvard yuppie, I'm assuming you learned all this in class anyway.
As someone starting a new job I figured I'd finally knock this one off my to-read list. And it was fine. I probably gleaned a few nuggets in there. But not as much as it likes to think. (The word self-aggrandizement comes to mind.)
Profile Image for Emma Bostian.
61 reviews419 followers
December 13, 2022
Giving your employees a judgement test is 10000% and diminishing their responsibilities so they "get the hint" about their subpar performance is by far the worst management/leadership advice I've ever heard.
Profile Image for Jacob Van Sickle.
127 reviews14 followers
May 27, 2021
My take aways and notes are below:

- The Breakeven Point - the point at which new leaders contribute as much value to their new organization as they have consumed from it. (2)
- Four Propositions
- The root cause of transition failure happens at the interaction of the situation and the strengths/weaknesses of the leader. It is always both. (4)
- There are methods that a leader can employ to reach success and the break even point faster. (4)
- The overriding goal in a transition is to build momentum by creating virtuous cycles that build credibility and by avoiding getting caught in vicious cycles that damage credibility. (5)
- Transitions are the crucible for leadership development and should be managed accordingly. (5)
- Coming from the outside is much more difficult than an inside hire (8)
- Ten Step Plan
- Promote Yourself
- Accelerate your learning
- Match strategy to situation 
- Secure early wins
- Negotiate Success 
- Achieve Alignment 
- Build Your Team
- Create Coalitions
- Keep your balance
- Expedite Everyone
- Early wins are the key to proving yourself quickly. By the end of your transition, you want your boss, your peers, your subordinates to feel that something good is happening (80)
- Focus on what is important to secure early wins. A focus on everything is a focus on nothing (81)
- Failing to get wins that matter to your boss (82)
- Waves of change (see picture, 83) 
- Set goals for each term to secure early wins (85)
- Problematic Behavior Patterns (89) Table
- How to be a good leader list (91-92)
- Demanding but able to be satisfied
- decisive but judicious
- focused but flexible
- willing to make tough calls but humane
- 5 Conversations (109-11)
- The situation diagnosis
- The expectations conversations
- the style conversation
- the resource conversation
- The personal development conversation
- Matching support to your situation - For Startup (113)
- Help getting needed resources quickly 
- Clear measurable goals
- Guidance as strategic breakpoints
- Help staying focused
- Under promise over deliver (115)
- Clarify, Clarify, Clarify (115)
- Jump starting a team - “You will know you have been successful in building a team when you reach the breakeven point - when the energy the team creates is greater than the energy you need to put into it. It will take a while before that happens; you have to charge the battery before you can start the engine.” (182)
- Using tools of persuasion (192)
- Assert Control Locally - “It is hard to focus on work if the basic infrastructure that supports you is not in place. Even if you have more pressing worries, move quickly to get your new office set up, develop routines, and clarify expectations with your assistant, and so on. If necessary, assemble a set of temporary resources - files, references, information technology, and staff support - to tide you over until the permanent systems are operational.” (217)
- Stabilize the Homefront - “It is fundamental rule of warfare to avoid fighting on too many fronts. For new leaders, this means stabilizing the home front so you can devote the necessary attention to work. You cannot hope to create value to work if you are destroying value at home.” (217) True in ministry as well.
- Types of advice givers table (220)
- "The difference between transitioning into a lower-level management position and becoming CEO is more a matter of degree than of kind.” (238)
Profile Image for Ioana.
503 reviews50 followers
December 3, 2019
Quite uninteresting and superficial, approaching a variety of topics broadly, without sufficient focus. Perhaps this just wasn't a book for me - I am afraid I didn't get any insightful tips from this book. It was okay, there was nothing wrong with the book per say, it just wasn't for me. In my opinion, its target audience being deemed as leaders is a bit strange. Regardless of position and role, these tips genuinely apply to everyone making a career transition - we all want to have a positive, strong impact as soon as possible, and we all have to clarify expectations that others have of us and build our network within the new environment. Whatever role you are looking at, they will be change that they will make and people they will influence.

In some ways, I also thought this book may be quite dated (it was written in 2003, and apparently the work environment, at least in software engineering, has changed a lot!). Most, if not all, pieces of advice given implied checking in with your boss, making sure it corresponds to your boss' agenda, asking your boss for approval. Where is the aspect of giving your boss feedback? Cooperation, collaboration? Modern environments highlight how important it is to have feedback as a two-way street, rather than blindly following what your manager tells you. For a book on this topic, this is something I'd like to see.

In terms of the many things this book is trying to do, here's a few examples:
- How to deal with your family transitioning, such as in a relocation (I actually found this inappropriate for this type of text);
- Dealing with underperformers (there are much better books on this out there);
- Lots of useless diagrams, that literally add nothing to the text, I assume in order to make the read more approachable;
- Building a network of advisers (not specific to the case of a career transition).

Would not recommend.
Profile Image for Robert Chapman.
501 reviews44 followers
September 14, 2012
The saying goes that you have 90 days in a new job or position to make an impact and demonstrate competence. This book is all about how to create and execute against a 90 day plan to ensure a successful transition.

Four specific types of transitions are covered in detail with examples of both success and failure and the conditions which contributed to the end result.

The four types of transitions are called the STaRS model:
• start-up
• turnaround
• re-alignment
• sustaining success

Each of these transitions requires a specific set of behaviors and a unique plan to make the transition successful.

I found the level of detail provided for each transition type excellent, it covers everything from how manage up to how to deal with direct reports and peers. Being in a new position at work myself, this book was very timely and has provided with me with excellent guidance in how to approach and manage the challenge.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is about to undertake a transition.
Profile Image for Ashraf Bashir.
207 reviews101 followers
May 14, 2020
What a book! It's a management encyclopedia, not only for onboarding to new positions, but for later challenges as well! Every chapter contains tons of gems, no lengthy stories, no theoretical speeches, no rosy-world where angels are singing around, instead you get detailed explanation backed up with strong practical and pragmatic reason, based on long experience in management. A real treasure that I will read again and again. Won't help unless you are above middle level of management (manager of managers or above).
Profile Image for Asya.
26 reviews
November 8, 2021
If you have led people in the past or just have a general leadership affinity, a lot of topics in the book should be familiar. Nevertheless I find it a good refresher and a check list every time I have a major change in my working environment or my role.
Profile Image for Alice Malahova.
91 reviews6 followers
April 12, 2021
Best book for your career you can ever read. Even though a lot of advises are intended to be delivered to only very high-level leaders, I consider this book is eyes opening for any level of an employee. The biggest advantage of this book is that it really structured, and there is no “water” in this book, all 260 pages are full with really important information.
Profile Image for Nina Ive.
186 reviews6 followers
June 28, 2018
This was recommended to me over a year ago and as I am preparing for a next step career move I thought I would give it a go. I found it easy to read and immensely practical. In most instances the examples are obvious. Like when you know in your head the types of things you should do, but you end up just forgetting and reverting to normal behaviour!

This book is designed to give a structured approach to changing that behaviour, setting you up for success. Each chapter has a summary of points, lots of interactive tables where you can plot your own examples, and real world examples that we have all seen happen in our careers at some point or other.

Even though this is designed to assist managers transition into new positions, I found a lot of value in situations beyond those first 90 days, such as strategies for creating alliances and getting business case approval. It also gives you the tools for assessing teams for skill capability and align strategies with collaborating teams or organisations.

I can see why this has been on the best seller list for the last 10 years, I think it will continue for another 10!
Profile Image for Scott Maclellan.
139 reviews5 followers
July 26, 2020
By the time I finished chapter 2, I already knew this was one of the best books I have ever read.

In the weeks since I started reading it, I have reread almost every chapter with both audiobook and e-book. This was to reinforce the takeaways and keep my own 90 day plan on track as I embark on my first manager job.

While it is still applicable to a first time manager, it is likely best suited to more senior managers switching between companies. The examples are primarily managers of managers. Restructuring a flat team of 5 does not make sense.

The book drills home the importance of understanding context and learning while you plan out your initial impact aligned to long term goals. Moving from a focused individual contributor role to the chaotic and connected world of team lead has flipped my perspective completely.

Even more important than the recommended actions are the many antipatterns to avoid. Prone to do too many things? You are falling into the action imperative. Avoid stalling out by stepping beyond the low hanging fruit towards your long term objectives. Avoid common landmines which can derail the best laid plans.

It has helped guide and shape almost every conversation. Saying no to the urgent so we can focus on the important has been easier. Provided a scaffold to understand the where to direct our efforts. Reduced my uncertainty and suggests how to think about next steps.

Not for everyone. If you like structure and thinking through problems it can be great. If you already know what you need to do then this will probably only confirm your bias.

It has taught me how to think about and approach being a leader. That is why this is 5 stars.
Profile Image for Emily.
685 reviews614 followers
July 16, 2015
Obviously, I should circle back and review this book more thoroughly in a few months. But it seemed useful to me. When you start a new job as an individual contributor, you mostly have to figure out the subject material and your boss, which is relatively straightforward and can unfold at its own pace. But if you have direct reports, you need to figure out what you're doing, what you should ask them to do, how to operate in a new culture, how much to change how fast, and how to work with your peers to manage projects and resources, too. This book offers a blueprint for finding out what you need to know, making contacts, and forming plans. Even if it seems to assume that you are the incoming CFO of a multinational widget concern, it is confidence-building to have a systematic plan to react to and adapt, an agenda that tells you how to start.
Profile Image for Robin Pokorny.
18 reviews12 followers
January 15, 2023
Wow, just wow.

Based on some reviews here and age of this book, I expected it will not be applicable to software companies. But I was so wrong, the learnings from this book are quite universal.

While I understand that for many the strategies presented seem Machiavellian, I actually believe they are very honest. The book just makes sure you will not focus only on your competence (technical skill) but incorporate company's culture and politics, too.

Among the good advice and many useful exercises, I enjoyed the language and a bit formal presentation.

I'm starting a new job on Monday and will implement the plan as shown. Also, I want to re-read some chapter in 30 or 60 days to remind myself what to focus on.
Profile Image for Vince Wu.
12 reviews2 followers
August 5, 2011


I think you'll find this book by Watkins quite disappointing if you're expecting some extraordinary insight on how to successfully take on a new role. This book isn't a summary of theory backed up by research. Nor is it a collection of motivating war stories.

This book is much more suitable if treated as a checklist. Assuming you agree that having a strategy is critical to successfully transitioning to a new role, how do you go about formulating this strategy? How do you make sure you've considered every aspect? This is where the book comes in handy. The ideas aren't new or non-obvious, but it's valuable nonetheless in laying out a blueprint.
Profile Image for Steve Sarner.
Author 2 books331 followers
February 9, 2017
This was a helpful book. It validated many things I already knew but did not offer too many new ideas. The systems and processes recommended for getting started are generally simple common sense approaches.

That said, I think it is a great book for someone earlier in their career. I really could have used this many years ago when I inherited a senior team with a promotion. It offers sound and practical advice for situations of this nature and many others. It is a very solid read for a first time supervisor or manager too.
Profile Image for Rafael Rosa.
63 reviews11 followers
February 1, 2016
## TL;DR
Provides some structure to how to approach a new management job, with useful "reminder lists", but nothing out of this world. If you're new to management or looking to improve your political skills on higly hierarchical organizations it might be useful. The author is too forceful trying to sell his ideas and focus a lot on adapting to the environment and only rock the boat when needed, which is an approach I dislike.

## Opinion
Not bad as management books go, he provides useful check-lists of "things to consider" when on boarding or making management decisions. His accomplishment is giving a decent structure to these ideas that are usually spread across different disciplines or learned from experience.

His method is a kind of "paint by the numbers" for on boarding and planning, split into the following parts:
* Prepare yourself
* Learn about what you're getting into before joining and mentally break away from the previous job
* Accelerate your learning
* Don't start by making changes and decisions. First spend time learning about the company history, culture, politics and processes before you act, but you need to do it methodically to speed up the process
* Match your strategy to the situation
* Undertand the situation and direction of the company using the STARS framework and adapt your actions and approach to it
* Secure early wins
* Early and small successes will build your reputation and buy you time to act on the long term
* Negotiate success
* Make sure your clear about what your boss and the organization expects from you. Underpromise and overdeliver.
* Achieve alignment
* With a clear understanding of the direction and strategy of the company make the necessary adjustments to structure, processes and skills to deliver it
* Build your team
* Be methodical when changing your team to make sure they can contribute to the company's goals, you don't get in legal trouble and you set the tone for the remaining team
* Create coalitions
* How to play politics and get the support you need to achieve your goals
* Keep your balance
* Make sure your personal life is under control to avoid derailing your new job
* Accelerate everyone
* Sell your company on the need for formal on boarding process, especially if they buy the authors' consulting services

### The good

One thing that I think is valuable and I didn't know before reading the book is the STARS framework to classify the company's direction and adjust your approach accordingly. STARS is an achronym for *start-up, turnaround, accelerated growth, realignment, and sustaining success*, which are different situations that a company, division or product line might be going through. Each situation calls for different approaches and *pain thresholds* the company is prepared to take. For example, during turnarounds the company can tolerate brutal changes to structure and products because they need to adapt fast or die, while in realignment situations it probably won't accept the same changes without a lot of resistance.

[The author has an article explaining the basics on HBR](https://hbr.org/2009/01/picking-the-r...), it isn't rocket science and anybody with a few jobs under their belt will have an intuitive understanding of it, but it's the first time I saw it structure in this way and it provides a good share language to discuss such things.

Also, the check-lists he provides throughout the book are useful, both when you're new to the job and when you're struggling with some organizational problem. They do not solve anything for you, but will help you approach these situations with more structure, which is helpful.

## The bad
Unfortunately, by trying discuss so many topics, he's unable to discuss them in depth, a problem compounded by the lack of substantial reading recommendations. A good example of this is when he discusses strategic positioning and uses SWOT as a reference framework for it. He doesn't provide an in depth discussion, provides external references and barely suggests that there are alternative frameworks to strategy analysis. Adding some good external references, beyond his own articles on HBR, would improve the book a lot.

## The ugly
All over the book he tries too hard to sell his awesome method, which is incredibly annoying. I get that he likes his method and it's "acclaimed" by the management publications all over the world, but I'm already reading his stuff, I don't need him hammering the marketing tag line on every chapter and have a sales pitch disguised as the "accelerate everyone" chapter.

Another annoyance is that the book is clearly geared towards traditional, highly hierarchical and political companies, a more cynic review could summarize the book as "get your political backstabbing game to a higher level". I get that he wrote it thinking about joe-white-collar, but the fact that he proposes a chameleon approach when getting a new job, politely suggesting that you hide your true self until you're established, is a very disappointing.

To his credit he asks readers to treat their employees with decency and respect, but in my book this is the bare minimum when dealing with people's livelihoods, so no extra cookies for him.

## Notes on the format
I read it on Kindle, this is the kind of book that's probably better suited to print or e-book, but not audio, since most of the useful stuff is on diagrams and check-lists, and you'll probably want to refer to them from time to time. Some of the tables are mangled on Kindle, you were warned.
Profile Image for Cerenela (Cherry Books).
444 reviews15 followers
August 12, 2020
Leído para debatirlo con Palo, Tali y Ani. ;)

Los libros sobre negocios o liderazgo no son mi lectura habitual pero empecé a leer este libro porque unas amigas necesitaban leerlo y me pasaron la voz para poder comentarlo.

Aunque, como dije, este tipo de libros no es mi lectura habitual siempre encuentro algo enriquecedor en ellos, siempre se puede aprender algo y siempre habrá una situación a la cual aplicarlo.

Un libro fácil de leer y de entender que nos muestra la importancia de y nos ayuda a saber cómo manejarnos en esos primeros 90 días de una transición laboral.
43 reviews
February 1, 2023
A helpful book that I read every time I change roles or jobs.

Having read this book now three times each times drives different results. It is a good manual to help you diagnose where you are at personally, what the company needs from you, and what actions or planning are required.

Do you need to act on the entire book? My experience is no. I try to pick 1-2 strategies from the book to implement in a new job and each time there is a “wow you are so prepared” type of statement. Little do they know I have my secret manual.

Give it a read, put it on the shelf and refer back to it when you change roles.
Profile Image for Lloyd.
560 reviews31 followers
July 7, 2019
Mostly VP-Level Advice

The book starts with valuable questions and understanding that every job seeker should consider. I'd suggest using this material directly when interviewing possible employers.

There is information and tools throughout the book for us looking to set off on the best foot at our new job and find the cadence of our coworkers and business. But if we are not in a senior leadership position then the trail markers are not all there and we’ll be putting in extra miles to find content later in the book that is applicable.

I suspect as I go to apply this knowledge and tools I’ll be updating my rating to five stars. Even though my role is not currently in transition, as organizations are often in transition, this book seems like it will be frequently useful as an analytical tool.
Profile Image for Lauren R .
11 reviews3 followers
September 4, 2020
I don't get the fuss about this book. I read the full book and then a year later read a "getAbstracts" cliff notes version of it. I found the cliff notes version much more useful and practical. That said, none of the advice felt very novel or groundbreaking to me. Would recommend to someone very early in their career
Profile Image for Rafael Mtz.
34 reviews
July 25, 2022
Will re read. Some of the things are not actionable depending on the type of transition and that is the point, to know what is within your influence area and what needs to be provided by the organization.

One thing is setting yourself for success, other is becoming aware of the surrounding environment that is attached to the transition.

Thx alex for the book recommendation.
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