How I fell off “The First 90 Days” wagon

management transition planningBefore starting my new job, I read (most of) The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. I had the best intentions. I had a newly minted M.A. in Leadership in my back-pocket for crying out loud.

So what happened to my plan?

It’s possible that I underestimated the challenge of managing a new type of department, in a very complex economic sector that is new to me, in a new organization and in the public sector for the first time.

It’s also possible that the book overpromises a tad. For example, I’m not sure that in three months you can understand an organizations’ “markets, products, technologies, systems, and structures, as well as its culture and politics” (p.12). Of course that’s in addition to diagnosing the situation in which you find yourself, securing early wins, negotiating success with your boss, building and realigning your team; creating coalitions and, of course, keeping your personal balance and expediting everyone around you. Is it just me or is this a bit of a tall order? Recommendations in the first chapter alone would take over a month of solid meetings.

During my first few days, I kept forgetting to use my tag in the elevators!

Nonetheless, here I am combing through my copy and thinking about a more systematic approach to my new role. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done my research: read plans; customer satisfaction results; engagement surveys; monthly, interim and annual reports. I’ve met with key people in my department and in a few others; jumped into projects; conducted hiring interviews; listened in on call centre interactions; attended training on key products and met with external clients. Am I fully “accelerated”? Sadly, no. It’s time to shore up my efforts and try again. Here’s my new plan for The Next 90 Days:

The Learning Agenda

  1. Revitalize my internal networking efforts to better understand internal processes and to build alliances.
  2. Start networking with external contacts. Earlier efforts derailed but the benefits are obvious and the opportunity is there.
  3. Discuss with my team the biggest organizational/departmental challenges and their causes; the most promising opportunities for unexploited growth; what would need to happen to exploit these opportunities and where I should focus my attention.

Securing Early Wins

  1. Understand what will be considered a win and identify  few quick ones.
  2. Find a systematic way to focus. (Admittedly, there has been too little focus.)
  3. Write down what I want people to say I have accomplished after one, two and five years and pursue those objectives relentlessly.

Keep (or find) My Balance

On Managing YourselfOne thing that The First 90 Days does not cover effectively, in my opinion, is any element of self care beyond “stabilize the home front.” That sounds a little operational to me. Maybe it’s just in my home but my husband and children don’t really enjoy being “managed”. To find my balance, I’ll need a healthy dose of  Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy’s Harvard Business Review article: Manage Your Energy, Not your Time. This piece provides proven techniques to renew four dimensions of personal energy.

1. Physical Energy: Set an earlier bedtime. Get more exercise. Eat small meals and light snacks every three hours. Take brief but regular breaks.

2. Emotional Energy: Diffuse negative emotions with deep abdominal breathing. Examine your situation through a different lens (the other’s perspective or a longer term view).

My favourite: “Fuel positive emotions in yourself and others by regularly expressing appreciation to other s in in detailed, specific terms through notes, emails, calls or conversations (p.64).”

3. Mental Energy: Reduce interruptions by performing high value tasks away from phones and email. Respond to voice-mail and email at designated times. Each night, identify the most important task for the next day and make it your first priority in the morning.

4. Spiritual Energy: Find ways to do more fulfilling activities. Allocate time and energy to what’s most important. Live your core values.

That’s my plan for the next 90 days. What has worked for you during times of transition?

Published by Dominique O'Rourke

Public Affairs professional, City Councillor, MA Leadership graduate, problem solver and lifelong learner.

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