I’m a Planner. I like to go into a situation with as many facts as possible. In the absence of said facts, a plan to gather facts is the next best thing. And so, before starting my latest job I picked up a copy of The First 90 Days.
The First 90 Days has been recommended time and again to help leaders successfully make career transitions. The claim is that the actions you take during your first few months in a role can dictate whether you fail or succeed. I personally believe that starting out strong makes a difference in how you’re perceived.
I created a 30-60-90 day plan that helped me to navigate my recent transition. If you’re curious how you can do something similar, keep reading.
What kind of change do you need to lead?
That is the most important question to have answered when starting in a new role. The First 90 Days presents the STARS model. It’s a way of categorizing the current state of affairs. It allows you to develop the appropriate strategy for bringing about the desired change.
STARS is an acronym that stands for: start-up, turnaround, accelerated growth, realignment, and sustaining success. Each of these business situations poses a different set of challenges and opportunities.
But how do you know what type of situation you’ll be in? You need to learn. And how do you learn? There are multiple avenues you should take. Here’s what worked for me:
- Informal conversations with direct reports/peers/manager
- Establishing relationships with folks outside of direct reporting chain
- Reading through internal documentation/status reports
- Watching past town hall style videos
Ultimately what I’ve found is that you will have a mix of the STARS situation going on. Some aspects of the business are in a realignment phase, where other aspects are in a turnaround.
Once you’ve diagnosed where the business is, then you can start getting alignment on how to move towards bringing about the desired change.
In order to present an effective 30-60-90 day plan, think about high level action items you plan to accomplish. These were my top five priorities:
- Shape how the team functions
- Identify and address problematic behaviors
- Establish key relationships (directs, peers, manager)
- Formalize team playbook
- Ensure a cohesive Apps team
I landed on these items after getting answers to a running list of questions. Questions such as,
- What do you hope I have accomplished by the end of 90 days?
- What is my manager being measured against?
- What are the 3 most important things to my manager?
- How do we plan on letting product teams contribute to the native apps?
- If you were me, what would you focus attention on?
- What are the biggest challenges the organization is facing?
Getting answers to these questions is crucial. If you create your plan in a vacuum you risk alienating others and focusing on the wrong things. I asked the same set of questions to different people. I wanted to make sure that I would have the needed support to execute on my goals. Thus, by the end of my third week, the first draft of my 90 day plan was prepared.
Writing the plan
With your priorities defined, the next step is to break them down into months and develop concrete action items. Each of the three months should have a primary objective. For example, Month 1: Absorb, Month 2: Analyze, Month 3: Improve.
Having the objective allows you to give thought to what key actions you hope to accomplish during that month. As an engineering manager, I think of my job as spanning 3 Ps: people, process, and product. I used this breakdown to help split up my key action items.
For example, one of my priorities is to “Shape how the team functions.” One of the key actions that helped me to achieve that goal was to “Have 1-on-1s with everyone on the team.” That was something that I could accomplish in the first 30 days. So I included that action in the People section under 30 Days. It also fell into the Absorb objective because it gave me the opportunity to learn about the current pain points.
I went through each priority, broke it into pieces that fell into the monthly objectives aligned against one of the 3 Ps.
Further, I made sure that I set realistic goals that were aspirational in nature. Working at a start-up I have come to expect the unexpected. Having goals that were realistic helped me to avoid feeling needless pressure.
In general, always underpromise and overdeliver. It’s harder to walk back from the reverse.
The past few months have been full of ups and downs. My 30-60-90 day plan helped anchor me. There were times where I felt uncertain about a call I needed to make. Looking back at my plan made the decisions easier. Either something aligned with my stated goals or it did not.
The other thing I realized is that, it’s just a plan. Plans change. As I faced new circumstances or new information came to light, I revisited my plan and adjusted accordingly. And that’s totally the right thing to do.
Learning the intricacies of your new role in less than three months is challenging. But creating a strong 30-60-90 day plan can help smooth out the bumps.