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

The First 90 Days - Book summary

The first 90 days of any career transition—be it a promotion, a new job or a lateral transfer—are critical and can determine if you succeed or fail in the new role. In this book, Michael Watkins presents critical success strategies for new leaders at all levels. In this free version of The First 90 Days summary, we’ll give an overview of the proven strategies to shorten your learning curve and build momentum within the first 90 days of any new management role. The impact is multiplied when the approach is applied organization-wide.

Start a Virtuous Cycle in the First 90 Days

Each time a mid-level leader is hired or promoted, it takes approximately 6.2 months for him/her to get up to speed and deliver positive net value. In any transition, the goal is to reach the breakeven point asap, i.e. the employee’s contribution meets the company’s investment. By applying the 90-day framework, you can get to the breakeven point up to 40% faster.


Unfortunately, leaders tend to fall into several transition traps that lead to a series of bad decisions, loss of credibility and alienation from potential allies. Specifically, they tend to assume past success factors will work in the new role, jump into preconceived/premature conclusions and rush to take action before setting clear expectations and learning the culture, relationships and info channels. They end up wasting time/energy on the wrong things, damaging their credibility and alienating potential allies. Without the right insights and support, a vicious cycle develops as they keep fumbling and wasting even more time/energy.

The First 90 Days summary_vicious-virtuous cycle overviewWe’ll now outline the 10 key strategies or principles to counter the transition traps above, build the right foundations to create a virtuous cycle that improves your effectiveness, builds credibility and momentum. Detailed tips and examples for each strategy/principle can be found in our full summary bundle.

Strategies for Accelerating Transitions

1. Prepare in advance

Take a break before the transition to prepare yourself. Ideally, start your preparation once you’re being considered for a new role. In the complete 14-page version of The First 90 Days summary you can get more details on the (i) challenges and requirements to prepare for when you’re promoted to a bigger role or join a new company, and (ii) how to go about preparing yourself for the transition. Don’t go in unprepared!

2. Speed up your learning

Don’t assume you know what’s required, rush into action, or apply solutions/systems you’re familiar with. Define what you must learn about the new role and quickly get up to speed on those areas. In our complete summary, you’ll learn more about (i) how to set up a learning agenda, (ii) the key areas to look out for, and (iii) other learning tips e.g. the questions, sources and learning structure to consider.

3. Tailor your strategy to your role/situation

Don’t assume that what worked for you previously will work for your new role. Different roles/situations call for different strategies. Assess the situation properly to develop the right plan. In our full version of The First 90 Days summary, you’ll learn (i) the STARS model (Startup, Turnaround, Accelerated-growth, Realignment, and Sustaining success), and (ii) how to use it to consider the strategic options for the STARS portfolio you’ve inherited.

4. Negotiate Success and Manage Expectations

Your relationship with your new boss is critical for your success. Take 100% responsibility to establish a healthy work relationship with your boss and set clear, realistic expectations about your goals, mandate and resources. In addition, find out if there’re other stakeholders who can affect your evaluation and rewards. In our complete summary bundle, you’ll find more details on the 5 key areas you should incorporate into your discussions with your boss and your direct reports.

5. Clinch early victories

If you fail to build momentum during your transition, it’ll be much hard to drive results in the subsequent months/years. Aim to secure early wins in your first 90 days. Get more tips on (i) the types of initiatives to focus on and (ii) the phased approach you can use to get quick wins from the full summary.

6. Get Alignment

The more senior you are as a leader, the more you must be able to understand and align various organizational components (e.g. strategy, structure, processes and resources). During the first 90 days, focus on identifying potential mis-alignments and developing an initial plan to address them. Do not rush into action. Find out more about the areas of alignment and steps to take from our full version of The First 90 Days summary.

7. Build your Team

Your team members are vital for your success. Whether you’re inheriting an existing team or building a new one, you must (i) assess, (ii) align, and (iii) mobilize every member on your team. More tips for each of these 3 areas in our full summary bundle!

8. Build Alliances

Build relationship capital and cultivate allies internally and externally, including those within and outside your reporting line. Zoom in on what it means to map out your influence goals/landscape and to develop your influence strategies.

9. Manage yourself

A transition can be overwhelming as you juggle the need to deliver results in the midst of uncertainty and a lack of knowledge. You must balance between others’ advice and your own judgment, and between the demands of the new role and your family. The book includes 3 anchors you can use to improve your self-management during the transition.

10. Accelerate everyone

At an individual level, a failed transition hurts your career. At an organizational level, every failed transition translates into real costs–from an under-performing junior staff to fatal strategic errors by a senior leader. Imagine the returns on investment if your organization can accelerate every transition by 10-40%.  More in our full summary on how to: (i) identify key transitions and (ii) improve current transition systems.

Here’s a quick visual summary of all 10 strategies to accelerate your transition in the first 90 days:

The First 90 Days Summary_overview of 10 transition strategies

Getting the Most from The First 90 Days

Ready to transition successfully into your new role? If you’d like to zoom in on the ideas above and get more detailed tips and examples, do get our complete summary bundle, which includes a 1-page infographic, a 14-page text summary, and a 26-minute audio summary.The First 90 Days summary - full summary bundle

For each of the 10 strategies summarized above, the book also includes (i) a short example to illustrate the associated transition challenges, (ii) a list of questions to help you apply the ideas to your transition, and (iii) various tools, assessments and checklists. You can purchase the book here or or visit for more details.

About the Author of The First 90 Days

The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter was written by Michael D. Watkins—a Canadian author best known for his expertise on accelerating transitions. Dr. Watkins is co-founder and chairman of Genesis Advisers, an executive onboarding and transition acceleration company. He was a professor at The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the Harvard Business School, and INSEAD in France. He is also a Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland.

The First 90 Days Quotes

“Every successful career is a series of successful assignments, and every successful assignment is launched with a successful transition.”

“Joining a new company is akin to an organ transplant—and you’re the new organ. If you’re not thoughtful in adapting to the new situation, you could end up being attacked by the organizational immune system and rejected.”

“Recruiting is like romance, and employment is like marriage.”

“You cannot figure out where to take a new organization if you do not understand where it has been and how it got where it is.”

“The higher you rise in an organization, the more you must play the role of organizational architect.”

Click here to download The First 90 Days summary & infographic

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