The First 90 Days in a New Job.

The 90-day Window.

That’s about how long you have to prove yourself in a new job – here’s how to impress and achieve results.

“Work like you don’t need the money
love like you’ve never been hurt
dance like nobody’s watching.”
(Peter Cochraine)

In other words go for it.

They say the average CEO is allowed 100 days to make his emphatic mark.  I actually think it’s less, three months or around 90 days assuming the poor person works weekends too.  My target is safer.  It gives 10 days grace which, believe me, you’ll really need.

But it’s not just CEO’s – it’s anyone doing any new job.  If about three months into a new post you are still fumbling and feeling your way chances are before long they’ll be leading,you, this myopic performer to the door.

Does this sound unduly ruthless?  Does it sound unfair?

Suppose you employed a gardener and after 90 days he was still wandering around, planning strategy and hadn’t actually mowed the grass, well, I think you’d have reasonable cause to be disappointed.  Suppose you employed a salesman and after three months he still hadn’t sold anything (“still getting to grips with the product portfolio and identifying the USP”) you’d be telling him USP meant “useless sales person”.

Everything needs to happen fast today.  It’s what’s expected and needed.  So the requirements of anyone going into a new job are exacting and pressured.  Just don’t get there on day one and look gormless.  You’ve got to land running.

The following suggestions are indicative of the sort of plan you need. Just don’t expect to do a stunning job if you haven’t got your “90 Day Checklist” filled in and ready to implement.

When anyone asks you how it’s all going (and they will – constantly) just say “fast”.  Fast never fails to impress in our Formula One culture.  And if by asides like this I may seem to be denigrating this culture believe me I’m really not.  Shareholders and employers have every right to expect they employed someone special who was going to bring quick and lasting success to their business.  In the process through which you are desperately trying to settle on your killer strategy remember what the Harvard Business Review described years ago – it’s my first tip.

  1. Strategy is hustle

    Not alone it isn’t and there are those who would argue anyway that hustle is a tactic not a strategy.  Ignore them.  Set about the first few days of your job with an activity level that staggers, exhausts, appals, motivates (the few around you who are real stars will be excited) and overall impresses all around you.

    Fast, then, but not so fast you fall over.

    That would not be too impressive.

    But fast.

    Let’s face it you have adrenalin on your side and adrenalin is a potent drug.  It can make you do astounding things, like the father who singlehandedly lifted a truck off his baby daughter.

    Fill the diary.

    Demand the nearly unreasonable.

  2. Why do we all love Dunkirk?

    From Harold Wilson onwards that “Dunkirk spirit” has seldom been far from leaders’ lips.  It’s what characterises the British.






    Sangfroid (that’s British?)

    No.  I’m being totally cynical.  We are all (British and everyone alike) special in a crisis. We respond with a spirit and a pace of urgency which we should never do in an “everything is normal” situation.

    Look at Alan Leighton at the Royal Mail – crisis creator and through crisis aiming to bond the disparate factions together.  And it’s working (we gather).

    So in your first 90 days at whatever level in your business you do have a crisis.  A really serious one.

    It’s your future.

    So articulate the crisis.

    Tell everyone how awful and how urgent it is.  Describe the state of your business as competitively dire.  And set out to solve it.

    You will of course be helped enormously by the Dunkirk spirit of your colleagues.

    And by being new…

  3.  A fresh pair of eyes

    That’s what you have.

    For about 90 days.

    Thereafter you are a pretty well-established executive.

    So be fresh.

    And use your eyes.

    Don’t sit in front of the P.C.Get out, meet people, listen to them and draw some early conclusions.

    You are seeing things much as a consumer or a child would.  And as a child don’t take “because it is” as a satisfactory answer.  Keep on asking “why?” “Why do we do it like this?  Have you ever thought of doing it a different way?  Why not? Why aren’t we selling more?  Why haven’t our plans for selling more been more successful?  Why are our competitors as successful as they are?  Why isn’t our product better?”

    Do it with good humour or you’ll drive everyone completely mad.  And keep the questions relevant to the level of job you are doing.

    And remember it’s “we” not “you” – you are part of the team now.

  4. If you aren’t a CEO don’t behave like one

    Keep a record of all you see and all you hear.  And force yourself to say to yourself- What I see is…

    • What this means is…
    • And these changes must happen because of it…
    • And in the following way…
    • Involving the following people…

    Force yourself.

    It’s so easy to sit on the fence.  And it’s almost certainly not why they hired you.

    Use your eyes.

    And use your brain.

    Remember you’ll notice stuff almost everyone else will tend to take for granted.

  5. Out and about

    Which is what you must be.

    Make sure you get to meet everyone in the business.  Look them squarely in the eye, be pleasant, ask them what they do, what they think needs changing and listen to them. Your agenda is twofold:

    1. To listen and learn
    2. To take the pulse of the business – how do people feel about life and about here?  Do they even feel at all or have they become anaesthetised by boredom or frustration?  Are they energetic or torpid?  Do you sense they could become lively and effective and fun?  Who are the “good guys”? Who are the problem children?  Is there a general sense of their pointing in the right direction?  Do people TALK to each other?  Is there a sense of political discord (don’t ask if there are politics – of course there are)?  Do you like them?  This last question is quite important.  You will have to spend a lot of time with them.

    And the way in which you’ll do this is by becoming a “meeting machine”.

    Just don’t succumb to temptation and do what many people do – retreat into themselves – hide behind their PC’s – pretend thinking in isolation beats chewing the fat with their colleagues.

    Get out and talk to people; you’ll learn a lot.

    Mix up “one to one’s” with proper meetings.  Make judgements about individuals and teams.  See if there is a group dynamic: listen to what people are really saying.  Most of all enjoy it.

    People are, at worst, interesting and at best, fun.  And remember they, and how they work together and with you, will really determine your success or otherwise.  Whatever you do, look at them as your allies and not as your adversaries.  The way people work together is the main reason for a company doing well or not, so make sure you understand them and how to help them work better together.

  6. Keep a proper diary

    You’ll have a good memory.

    Surprisingly most of us do if we are interested in what we are doing.  It’s only boredom that makes us forgetful in the normal course of events.

    But in the first 90 days you have an awful lot to take in and you’ll have the insights that only fresh eyes have and one day these may be really valuable.  So write down cryptic notes about everyone you meet, what they say plus your own first impressions and insights.  Some of it may be off the wall and provocative but  potentially valuable.

    My advice however is not to do what many do and keep your notes in one big book which may get lost or worst purloined.  Use a separate pad each morning and afternoon.  Staple together the results date mark them very clearly and leave the results at home.  Review the results every weekend and summarise the 10 insights of the week.

    I also advise you to take down comments in your meetings with colleagues as near verbatim as you can.  It’s impressive and uncanny to be told weeks later.

    “You said – well your words were pretty well exactly these…”

    It shows that you, the listener, care about what they say.  It also makes any insights that follow less intimidating and more apparently the product of everyone’s not just your own thinking.

    Keep these doodles of yours out of sight.  They are your personal, private reflections on a three-month journey.

    On average most of us would expect to have filled nearly 1,000 pages of A4 by then.

    Lock them away.

    You’re unlikely to need them again but maybe – who knows – you’ll retrieve them from where you’ve locked them away one day and find something that someone said that is really important. Have you noticed how lawyers always keep all their old notes?  Lawyers aren’t stupid.

    And if you feel you can’t sit through every meeting or lunch scribing away then don’t. You’ll remember what was said if you concentrate. Just give yourself 10 clear minutes afterwards when you alone to write out the key points that you recall.

  7. Spend lots of time with your boss

    No.  Don’t live in his or her pocket but make sure you have enough time booked out in their diary so you can review their own expectations of you and their insights of the business.Recently I spoke to a newly-appointed director of a business who had only met her boss once or twice in the initial 90 days and had to book her next meeting a full month ahead.  Now her boss was busy, involved in a major piece of extra mural work of huge, national importance but this was clearly ridiculous (and unfair).

    So it’s not so much lots of meetings as lots of conversations little and often.

    Get to know the person.

    Get to see them first thing in the morning and last thing in the day.

    Get the flavour of them in good and bad moods.

    Get behind the façade.

    You are, hopefully, going to spend a lot of time with them in the future so you’d better understand them and what drives them.

    You don’t have to be friends.

    You do have to be colleagues and knowing what he or she thinks and knows (and sometimes even more importantly what they don’t know) will be critical to what you yourself can and can’t do and how they will be judging you.

  8. Milk that honeymoon

    The first few months are wonderful in the sense people are pleased to have you on board – you bring new ideas, new hope, new energy and that fresh pair of eyes. Don’t screw up.Don’t make silly mistakes.Be sure you are:

    • courteous (eg. that you thank people for their time)
    • punctual
    • attentive
    • reliable (eg do whatever it is you say you’ll do)
    • equable – avoid argument
    • positive – watch your body language (avoid crossed arms and cross looks)

    In general people will be glad to see you.  Some will be intrigued, keen to see if you live up to your reputation.  Be available to them.  Treat them as though they and what they have to say is important.  But don’t spend too much time with anyone.  These are not social events.  There’s lots of work to get done and “fast” is the only speed at which to operate.  During the honeymoon people will be generous in their expectations of you.  Make sure they feel good to have met you.  You will need their good will later on.

  9. First Impressions Count

    They say we decide whether to employ or not employ a potential candidate at an interview in the first 30 seconds…If this is true it’s a shame we have to go through the charade of the next 30 minutes.  Maybe we should just say “Thank you.  Next…” after their half-minute is up, like they did in “Chorus Line”.

    Whichever way, our own need is to make an impact fast.

    Do the following six things:

    • good firm handshake
    • look people in the eyes
    • smile
    • listen intently
    • talk about the good things you’ve seen (and the not so good) briefly, clearly, cheerfully and authoritatively
    • yes…be brief (brief is good, brief recognises you are on a short, sharp learning curve)

    And make sure you really do enjoy meeting all these new people, really do want to hear what they have to say. This is not about acting – it’s about doing you job properly.

    If you don’t and are just doing this glad handing for form’s sake the smarter ones will suss you out.  You may never recover if they think you are a phoney.

  10. Orchestrate a major event

    In addition to this workload – “the meet and greet show and the day job” you need to dramatise expectations by setting up a major event at the end of the 90-day period and let them know it’s going to happen.

    What’s it for?

      1. To make you look good
      2. To synthesise everything you’ve done over this “honeymoon period”
      3. To motivate your direct reports and their direct reports and your peers
      4. To demonstrate that the world with you around in it is going to be different
      5. To create a distinctive sense of energy and momentum

    Mind you this is all a high-risk strategy.  Get it wrong and you won’t recover.  Get it right and you’ll have made yourself a star.

    So do you feel lucky, punk?

    How you do it will depend on a number of things not least your own analysis of the risk and the reward entailed.

    A key consideration will be the history of events in the company.  If your predecessor or your peers are notable for their presentation skills and for laying on great events then do yours very differently from theirs.

    Making your mark is pretty important.  You can’t simply drift from honeymoon to the rest of your career without symbolising precisely what you stand for.  In your quest for greatness don’t rely on your own wits.  Go to an external source of expertise who can tell you how to do it and set the whole thing up.  Whatever you do don’t leave it to the last moment.  Whatever you do don’t believe that doing nothing is really an option.

  11. Set yourself milestones

    If you have 90 days you have 13 weekly milestones.  Set them down clearly- “I want to achieve… put down whatever milestone do want to achieve… by whichever week”.  Become a ruthless target setter starting with yourself.  And if you  start missing your milestones, well I’m sorry to say you’ll have to work harder or you’ve got the targets wrong.  So when you do set them down make sure they are realistic and are “must be done’s not “nice to do’s”.  It wouldn’t hurt either if you let it be known that you are a rigorous target-setter as this will (if they’re smart) motivate those around you to start targeting themselves.  Go on – be a good influence early on, and if you are beginning to worry that I’m implying you should working a 7 day week during this period you are unfortunately correct.

    I am.

    You can take the odd afternoon off but if you are serious about being a success it’s going to be a lot of hard work.  Having those milestones means at least you have broken the task into bite-sized chunks on which you can focus.

So that’s it.

90 days of hell or 90 days of thrilling challenge.

How you respond is up to you.

But one thing is sure.  If you follow the advice I’ve given you, you will hugely enhance your chances of being not just a success but of becoming an extraordinary superstar.
You won’t just land running – you’ll be breaking world records.

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