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The First 90 Days:
Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels
By Michael Watkins
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.
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 ) 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