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The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels Hardcover – September 18, 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 585 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This earnest guide to career transition periods-when a new job or promotion puts an employee in an unfamiliar role-asserts, reassuringly, that navigating the all-important first 90 days is a "teachable skill." Business professor Watkins, co-author of Right From the Start: Taking Charge in a New Leadership Role, lays out a "standard framework" for leadership transitions, based on "five fundamental propositions," "ten key challenges," and a four-fold typology of situations that new managers find themselves in. Fortunately, Watkins balances the theorizing with practical steps managers can take to get on top of things and initiate changes, including elaborate self-assessment checklists, planning exercises and meticulous guidelines on how to have conversations with underlings and bosses. His advice, if not very original, is sound. He warns managers not to assume that their existing skills will suffice for new roles, advises them to pursue small-scale "early wins" to boost credibility, and admonishes workplace Machiavellis to "avoid pressing for closure until you are confident the balance of forces acting on key people is tipping your way." Watkins's penchant for cut-and-dried schematizations sometimes goes overboard, especially in the book's plethora of elementary graphs, tables, diagrams and matrices (novice orators are informed that "classic values invoked to convince others to embrace potentially painful change are summarized in table 8-1," while the oceanic topic of "Intersecting Cultural Dimensions" gets boiled down to a three-ring Venn diagram). But if the content of Watkins's counsel is not always obviously helpful, his systematized approach to thinking will at least help panicky executives keep their wits about them.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In these days of the public's microscopic scrutiny of corporate C-level executives, it's a wonder anyone would aspire to the CEO position. Amazingly enough, many eager managers are still climbing--and Harvard Business School professor and author (Right from the Start [1999]) Watkins helps prepare them for career moves, accelerating their transitions. This is, essentially, practical advice about undertaking new opportunities and understanding new vulnerabilities, quickly and without much upheaval. Different steps--sometimes simultaneously, sometimes sequential-- define success in the first three months, from promoting yourself (i.e., taking charge fast) to keeping your balance. Anecdotes enliven the checklists and sample learning plans; in fact, one specific case--Douglas Ivester of Coca-Cola--underscores the absolute necessity to adapt and change rapidly in new positions. Much content is human resources related, based on self-discipline, team building, and the availability of trusted advice and counsel. Would that every newly elected president of the U.S. heeded this practice. Barbara Jacobs
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 253 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business School Press (September 18, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591391105
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591391104
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (585 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #22,234 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Peter Leerskov on December 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is not just for managers at the executive level. It's also for you and me. It's for functional managers, project managers, and supervisors. The book targets new leaders at all levels that are making the transition from one rung of the ladder to the next.

If you have just been promoted to a new leadership position (or expect to be soon), then this book is for you.

The book outlines ten strategies that will shorten the time it takes you to reach what Watkins calls the breakeven point: the point at which your organization needs you as much as you need the job. Here they are ... the ten strategies:

1. PROMOTE YOURSELF. Make a mental break from your old job. Prepare to take charge in the new one. Don't assume that what has made you successful so far will continue to do so. The dangers of sticking with what you know, working hard at doing it, and failing miserably are very real.

2. ACCELERATE YOUR LEARNING. Climb the learning curve as fast as you can in your new organization. Understand markets, products, technologies, systems, and structures, as well as its culture and politics. It feels like drinking from a fire hose. So you have to be systematic and focused about deciding what you need to learn.

3. MATCH STRATEGY TO SITUATION. There are no universal rules for success in transitions. You need to diagnose the business situation accurately and clarify its challenges and opportunities. The author identifies four very different situations: launching a start-up, leading a turnaround, devising a realignment, and sustaining a high-performing unit. You need to know what your unique situation looks like before you develop your action plan.

4. SECURE EARLY WINS. Early victories build your credibility and create momentum.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This is a really useful book filled with sage advice for anyone assuming a leadership position, particularly as a former outsider to the organization. It's filled with reminders that you don't walk in with "the answer," that instead winning the trust and respect of your cohorts is a learning process that you should begin with great intensity. The first half of the book relates directly to someone who is assuming a management role, the next quarter of the book is about what to do as a new employee serving under a boss or bosses (perhaps as a mid-level manager). The last bit of the book gives a brief introduction to strategic thinking and the book concludes with questions to ask yourself (and your family) in evaluating your transition. It is applicable to any firm, church, non-profit, and even (mostly) the government.

Here's a summary of the points I gleaned:
- Establish your integrity in first 30 days.
- Learn all you can about the organization, put on your "historian" hat.
- Don't suggest changes without examining what has been done previously.
- Silence is not accession.
- Meet with everyone in the organization to evaluate their expectations. Ask them what they think you should focus on.
- Ask same questions of all so no one treated different and you have a cross-section.
- Look for "early wins," low-hanging fruit of improvements you can make or other things to boost morale.

Dealing with your boss in the first 30 days:
- Be proactive, assume it's on your shoulders to build the relationship and get the support you need.
- Schedule meetings to discuss expectations, evaluations, and personal development.
- Figure out what would give your boss "early wins.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a fine book with a lot of substance, and I place it slightly second to Thomas Neff and James Citrin's "You're in Charge--NOW WHAT?."

From my point of view as the reader, Neff & Citrin actually catalyzed me and inspired me into preparing a 100 day plan broken into 10 ten-day blocks, while Watkins is more of a manual with lots of useful checklists and suggested questions and so on, but between the two, Neff & Citrin actually drove me to the needed outcome: my own 100 day plan.

Both are good. If you buy only one, buy Neff & Citrin, but I do recommend that you buy both, read Neff & Citrin first, and then cherry pick from Watkins--the cost of these books is trivial in comparison to the return on investment.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought "The First 90 days" by Michael Watkins and Neff/Citrin's book titled "You're in Charge - Now What." I found Neff's book to be a stronger and more practical guide. Both offered excellent guidance however Neff & Citrin produced a more interesting and readable (less text-book like) book with real life examples and a road map. Word of warning in that both books are written for senior business management and less applicable for lower levels of management or line positions.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a revised and updated edition of a book I read when it was published in 2003. Although much has (and hasn't) happened in the business world since then, Michael Watkins' insights are (if anything) even more relevant and more valuable now than they were then because the actions taken by those in a new role, especially one with more challenging leadership responsibilities, will largely determine whether they succeed or fail. "When leaders derail," Watkins notes, "their problems can almost always be traced to vicious cycles that developed in the first few months on the job." Ninety percent of those whom Watkins interviewed agreed that "transitions into new roles are the most challenging times in the professional lives of leaders." They could be internal promotions, reassignments and/or relocations, or a new hire. These and other transitions are thoroughly discussed in the book.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Watkins' coverage.
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