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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.

For more detailed examples and tips, do get our complete book summary bundle in text, infographic and audio formats.The First 90 Days Summary - Book Summary Bundle

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. Do get a copy of our full 14-page summary for more details.

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 version of The First 90 Days summary (get full book summary here), 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 14-page 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 the full 14-page summary, 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.

Digest these powerful tips in minutes with our summary & infographic!

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. You can 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 assess, align, and mobilize every member on your team. Feel free to get 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. In our complete summary, we 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%.  In our full 14-page summary, we’ll outline how you can (i) identify key transitions and (ii) improve current transition systems.

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

The First 90 Days Summary_overview of 10 transition strategies

Other Details in “The First 90 Days”

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. For more details, do get a copy of the book or our book summary bundle, or visit

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Gain massive momentum in the first 90 days of any transition to set yourself up for success in your new role!

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