December 2018 Educate

Book Review: Prepare to Win “The First 90 Days” by Michael D. Watkins


Written By: Sharon B. Brown

Are you starting a new job or taking on a new role in your current workplace? Congratulations! Want some advice? Buy Michael D. Watkins’ enduring guide “The First 90 Days” and commit to working it. It’s not an easy read; Watkins challenges you to think, assess and plan. But if you put in the work, it will pay off in the end.

While this is a guide for leaders, much of it is applicable for anyone starting a new position or even just taking on new responsibilities. Whatever the situation, Watkins knows just how to prepare. He’s got this down pat – his consultancy business focuses on leaders in transition. Watkins has seen it all before and has anticipated every possible angle.

“The First 90 Days” is a reference guide, not intended to be read once and then put on the shelf. Smart leaders will refer to it often, and actively work it versus just reading it. It is filled with charts, tables, figures and questions, all designed to strategically optimize your first three months on the job.

When you’re promoted or land a new job as a leader, there’s good reason why – you have skills! But it takes more than just doing more of the same to succeed in your new role. Think of Watkins as your personal coach, guiding you through every step of the transition.

This is a book that takes some effort to read and work through. The writing is steeped in corporate-speak. Are you familiar with TQM, lean manufacturing and six sigma? If so, you’ll be right at home. But if they are not in your lexicon, it’s OK. You are still guaranteed to get a lot out of this guide.

The best thing about this book is that Watkins does all the thinking for you. That is, he’s thought about what you must think about before your first day and throughout your first three months. He even points out common traps to avoid. Instead of getting stuck in vicious cycles, he encourages the reader to embrace “virtuous” ones: start with targeted learning that informs strategy; make good decisions, increase credibility and gain early wins. Then repeat!

Whether you are starting a new job in a new company, or if you just got promoted, he’s got you covered. I liked his advice for people starting in a new place: think of yourself as an anthropologist. Observe, listen and study. Find the historians, or old-timers to help with context and corporate history.

It’s important, Watkins says, to take the time to think about what kind of situation your company is in. For example, is it a startup? Are they going through realignment? Or does it need a turnaround? Each situation requires a different approach and there might be elements of more than one in your new position. Again, no matter what the circumstance, Watkins is there with anecdotes and examples, questions and suggestions. He’s got your back.

The section on leading decision-making was an eye-opener for me. Consider two approaches, Watkins says, and decide when each is appropriate. One is the consult-and-decide approach and the other, build consensus. Different circumstances call for
one over the other. Using the right approach in the right situation results in a good decision and also generates good will among the participants.

In “Manage Yourself,” Watkins advises us to reflect and take stock along the way. More questions to ponder, yes, but with purpose. He shares a “plan, work, evaluate” cycle, which, like almost everything else in his guide, is deceptively simple. The key is to take his advice and work it, live it and breathe it as you make your way.

Written in 2001, and updated in 2013, Watkins has created a classic. He also has an app that can help with day-to-day tips. But to me, the app can’t substitute for really studying and working the exercises in the book.

Let Watkins help you create a deliberate and thoughtful plan for your first three months. Put in the time you will be sure to succeed.

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