How to have a successful first 90 days in your new leadership role

How to have a successful first 90 days in your new leadership role

A job is not just a job; it's one of the many steps you'll take in your career. As we move position and organisation more frequently than before, it's essential to consider how you'll manage the critical transition from one job to another. When you change company, you could be leaving behind some of the networks that have made you successful to date. The talents that brought you success in your previous company might not be the same set of skills required for your new position. The author of The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins, has identified that up to 40% of leaders will fail, partly due to onboarding. The first weeks of your new job are often the most critical, so you'll want to use your time as effectively as possible and learn as much about the company and your team as possible.


Before you even accept a job, make sure you understand what you must accomplish and how quickly you need to achieve specific goals. Probe, gather information and learn about the technical, product, business, cultural and political challenges you'll face. What's held people back from solving these problems already? Find out what support you'll get integrating into your new role. Above all, make sure that your expectations are aligned and realistic.

Once you've signed your contract and have a start date lined up, speak with your new boss, and find out what they think you should start learning in advance of your first day. Additionally, ask them or an HR contact if they have an onboarding programme for leaders joining the organisation.

Beyond this, it is often overlooked, but very important, that you mentally promote yourself from your last job to your new role. Don't just consider what you need to learn before your start date, but also think about what you aim to be. Reassess your leadership philosophy and reflect on what you need to improve on. Ask for feedback from peers and your current manager if you can. If you're doing an exit interview for your current employer, it is fair to ask for an equivalent performance debrief in return.

First Days

Make sure you are introduced to your team, peers, key contacts across the organisation, including your IT and HR contacts. If relevant, don't forget to check that you have met all other VIP connections, such as clients and external partners.

Reconfirm your goals and objectives with your boss, and make sure you are very clear on the mission and vision. Find out how people interact, what systems they use for communication and collaboration, and get a sense of how people work in your new company.

Regardless of your role, spend time learning about the product or services offered. All too frequently, leadership hires are not invited to the product demo or traditional onboarding. As you quickly build a clearer understanding of what is required to succeed, create a personal learning plan.

The First 90 Days

Develop a detailed and accurate understanding of the organisation's situation and plans before making significant changes. Build a solid awareness of the issues and challenges and the political landscape. It's a common but colossal mistake to go in with all the answers.

You still have a fresh set of eyes at the point you join, and there is a short yet valuable window to use this to your advantage. Identify quick wins, start to build momentum, and you will boost your reputation while developing trust.

Don't do too much, but make sure you completely understand the strategy and create alignment across the business or your team. Whether you are executing an existing strategy or creating a new one, you must communicate this across the organisation.

Work out who you want in your team, where you need to restructure. Understand individuals' strengths and weaknesses. Take charge and build trust.

Identify who the key stakeholders are for your success and start building a network of key relationships. Develop an understanding of partners, the community, investors, competitors, and regulators. Perhaps you want to set up in-person meetings or virtual coffee with your team members. Make sure you have a regular appointment for feedback from your boss. Many people tend to focus on their manager and subordinates, but building solid relationships with your peers is imperative.

As you're doing this, consider the culture and social behaviour in the company. Failure to do so, and you could appear out of sync. Remember that the rules of the game will likely be different, so you'll have to develop an understanding of these to maintain influence quickly.

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