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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 10 May 2013
This is a revised and updated edition of a book I read when it was published in 2003. Although much has (and hasn't) happened in the business world since then, Michael Watkins' insights are (if anything) even more relevant and more valuable now than they were then because the actions taken by those in a new role, especially one with more challenging leadership responsibilities, will largely determine whether they succeed or fail. "When leaders derail," Watkins notes, "their problems can almost always be traced to vicious cycles that developed in the first few months on the job." Ninety percent of those whom Watkins interviewed agreed that "transitions into new roles are the most challenging times in the professional lives of leaders." They could be internal promotions, reassignments and/or relocations, or a new hire. These and other transitions are thoroughly discussed in the book.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Watkins' coverage.

o Avoiding Transition Traps (Pages 5-6)
o Understanding the Fundamental Principles (9-12)
o Getting promoted (21-24)
o Table 1-1, "Onboarding checklists" (34)
o Identifying the Best Sources of Insight (54-57)
o Table 2-1, "Structured methods for learning" (61-62)
o "Emotional Expensiveness" (63-64)
o Planning for Five [Transition-Specific] Conversations (90-93)
o Planning the Expectations Conversation (98-100)
o Adopting Basic Principles (121-122)
o Avoiding Common Alignment Traps (141-143)
o Getting Started (146-148)
o Avoiding Common Team-Building Traps (167-170)
o Building Support for Early-Win Objectives (202-220)
o Understanding the Three Pillars of Self-Management (227-237)
o Table 10-1, "Reasons for transition failures" (245)

The information, insights, and counsel he provides in this book reveal what he has learned thus far about what he characterizes as "The Vicious Cycle of Transition" and "The Virtuous Cycle of Transitions." The former involves sticking with what you know, falling prey to the "action imperative," setting unrealistic expectations, attempting to do too much, coming in with "the" answer, engaging in the wrong kind of learning, and neglecting horizontal relationships. (Please check out Figure 1-2 on Page 7.)

With regard to the latter cycle, the "virtuous" one, can enable anyone involved in a transition to create momentum and establish an upward spiral of increasing effectiveness. (Please check out Figure 1-3 on Page 8.) To repeat, this updated and expanded edition develops in greater depth and wider scope the core concepts introduced in the first edition. The objective in 2003 remains the same now: "get up to speed faster and smarter."

Michael Watkins can help each reader to do that; better yet, he can each reader, especially those with supervisory responsibilities, to help others to do that. That achievement is indeed an admirable objective. However, we are well-advised to recall Thomas Edison's observation, "Vision without execution is hallucination."
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on 8 December 2013
I simply cannot recommend this book enough.

I am now about to use it for my second big job transition and am confident if I follow the guidance and develop my plan and stick to it, I will have another positive transition.

Some key points of note:
a) The book is methodical and structured - if you are a person who responds well to this type of approach, as am I, then you will love this book. Also, I find this approach much more useful than the endless anecdotal / 'stories' style of 'how to book', as you have a tangible framework you can apply to your own experiences.

b) There are some useful, and very simple, personal tests to assess your natural preferences and reluctances, e.g. in my case I am prone to dislike HR and admin, whilst preferring strategy and finance. The point is that you need both and this will help you keep a watchful eye on your behaviour in the new role/ organisation, especially on those first 90 days, to avoid missing important steps.

c) It is very good at reminding you to really think through what your new leadership role will be and how to avoid getting trapped into micro management and other management (rather than leadership) pitfalls.

d) The approach to getting up the learning curve quickly is excellent and especially the way to identify to identify different characters in the company, e.g. 'historians' - those who have been there and seen it all before. I found these particularly useful in my last turnaround role.

Finally, this book is simple and quick to read. It strikes the right balance between methodology and examples. At the end of the day, as with all these things, you will only ever get at much out of it as you are willing to put it.

By way of personal example, in my last new MD role, which was also with a new company, at a senior management team meeting around 3-months after I started, a number of peers commented on how well I already knew the organisation and it felt to them like I had been 'one of them' forever - I could not have wished for a better outcome.

I hope this review and book help with your own transition experiences. Best of luck!
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on 18 September 2009
As a keen student of new manager behaviour always on the lookout for new ideas, I picked up "The First 90 Days" with great anticipation. Michael Watkins sets out to provide new managers (he calls them "leaders") with a 90 day plan for taking over in a new role. There's lots to recommend this book. There's also lots to question.

In "The First 90 Days", the author stresses the importance of building momentum during the critical transition phase from new manager to successful manager. A 90 day acceleration plan is suggested that includes 10 transition challenges ranging from "promote yourself" through "score early wins", to "expedite everyone". One needs to look further than the title of these challenges as they are often more than what they seem. For example, "promote yourself" has more to do with changing your perspective to fit the new role rather than self-promotion.

I particularly liked some of the practical tips included in this book, such as the "Problem Preferences Assessment" which enables the new manager to quickly select the most appropriate and rewarding problem areas to address. Also a suggestion to write yourself a letter as if you had been in the role for three years describing what others said about your success in the role, is a nice way to set a broad vision for the new manager. Chapter 5 "Negotiate Success", which is all about managing your boss through the 90 day plan, is worth the price of this book alone.

I have three areas of criticism. Firstly, whilst the book has a fantastic array of suggestions, strategies, tips etc, I feel it would take more than 90 days to implement them all, let alone do the work that is required in the role. As such, it would make a great text for students of management, but could overwhelm the new manager looking for some quick or directed advice.

Secondly, although the author stresses otherwise, the book seems more suited to upper level roles than first line supervisors. For example, Chapter 6 "Achieve Alignment", looks at quite a sophisticated process of crafting strategy, assessing coherence, assessing adequacy and modifying strategy.

Finally, I'd like to see more positive case studies to illustrate rather than the "what went wrong" scenarios provided in a number of chapters. Although in real life, we often learn more from our mistakes, in a teaching role (such as this book) it is far more effective for the reader if he or she can see what works and implement this, rather than what doesn't.

I would recommend this book as an excellent text for management students and a resource for management teachers/educators. If you're a reading "The First 90 Days", then go straight to the practical "How to" areas, otherwise your 90 days will be up before you finish reading. (New managers might like to check out What To Do When You Become The Boss: How New Managers Become Successful Managers: OR 50 DOs for Everyday Leadership: Practical Lessons Learned the Hard Way (So You Don't Have To)

Bob Selden, author of What To Do When You Become The Boss: How New Managers Become Successful Managers
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on 6 March 2013
I bought this book when I was moving into a senior management role and was quickly impressed by the online reviews and personal recommendations. However, I must say I am extremely disappointed with the quality and usefulness of the book - I did not find even one chapter that added any value to me; most of the content in the book is so basic that it is an insult to intelligence.

What I found worse was the amount of highly negative, doomsday words used in every single chapter in the book. To give an example, I found the following sentences from just two paragraphs in the middle of the book:

"you find yourself waking up in a cold sweat"
"may revive some deep fears about your capabilities"
"can evoke long buried and unnerving feelings of incompetence and vulnerability"
"can set up a vicious cycle of denial and defensiveness"

Helping you understand the problems faced with transitioning is one thing; and setting up a doomsday picture for a confident, capable manager is another. I would highly recommend that every new manager makes their own plan rather than rely on this book.
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on 22 January 2017
Clearly written, even for those who do not rad 'management studies', well reasoned, and in many places is well aware of the realities that face any Manager. Provides thoughtful and clear advice on how to plan an effective 'on boarding'. I also believe, and I am sure the author expects that executive level readers should clearly possess the ability to adapt the procedures , policies, plans and advice given to their own circumstances. However, I would also echo other reviewers, despite making some clear allowance for realities, this book is best suited to chief excecutives, rather than those limited to what they can change at middle management in 'legacy ridden' companies. Food for thought, but not quite the 'holy grail', its apparent belief that it is only detracts from its effectiveness.
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on 27 December 2008
If you are moving into a new role (irrelevant of the level), this is a great book for providing new ideas about how to approach the challenge. It provides a wide range of ideas that will apply to leadership roles in a variety of situations. Since it is so well organised, it is possible to use it as a reference book and dip into the bits that are relevant for your particular situation. The examples and chapter summaries are excellent and make the material much more accessible.

The material applies to such a wide range of situations that I suspect others might find it useful. For example, it wouldn't surprise me if consultants will find this book useful when approaching a new engagement. It provides some useful tools and approaches to tackling new problems.

A really useful book that I will revisit time and time again. It is interesting to note that there aren't that many books that cover this important subject and it is a topic that many organisations actually overlook. The end result is that many of us end up in new roles with very little guidance during the transition period. This book helps fill this gap. As another reviewer suggested, if you are serving out your notice before starting a new job, this would be a good book to read. One thing is for sure, once you start your new job, you will only have limited time to read!
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on 21 December 2016
I was recommended this book as I was starting my new role. While a useful book to get you thinking about your first 90 days in a new role the book wasn't quite what I expected.

Most of the advice is based on the assumption of you taking a senior leadership role with a clear remit for implementing change. This doesn't help you when you're starting a new role where you do not have much decision making power at a strategic level.

The anecdotes presented are effective and help you understand the principles. I'm sure I will revisit this later in my career but I feel like the title would be more appropriate as 'The First 90 Days of a new Leader'
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on 20 December 2004
This book is not just for managers at the executive level. It's also for you and me. It's for functional managers, project managers, and supervisors. The book targets new leaders at all levels that are making the transition from one rung of the ladder to the next.
If you have just been promoted to a new leadership position (or expect to be soon), then this book is for you.
The book outlines ten strategies that will shorten the time it takes you to reach what Watkins calls the breakeven point: the point at which your organization needs you as much as you need the job. Here they are ... the ten strategies:
1. PROMOTE YOUSELF. Make a mental break from your old job. Prepare to take charge in the new one. Don't assume that what has made you successful so far will continue to do so. The dangers of sticking with what you know, working hard at doing it, and failing miserably are very real.
2. ACCELERATE YOUR LEARNING. Climb the learning curve as fast as you can in your new organization. Understand markets, products, technologies, systems, and structures, as well as its culture and politics. It feels like drinking from a fire hose. So you have to be systematic and focused about deciding what you need to learn.
3. MATCH STRATEGY TO SITUATION. There are no universal rules for success in transitions. You need to diagnose the business situation accurately and clarify its challenges and opportunities. The author identifies four very different situations: launching a start-up, leading a turnaround, devising a realignment, and sustaining a high-performing unit. You need to know what your unique situation looks like before you develop your action plan.
4. SECURE EARLY WINS. Early victories build your credibility and create momentum. They create virtuous cycles that leverage organizational energy. In the first few weeks, you need to identify opportunities to build personal credibility. In the first 90 days, you need to identify ways to create value and improve business results.
5. NEGOTIATE SUCCESS. You need to figure out how to build a productive working relationship with your new boss and manage his or her expectations. No other relationship is more important. This means having a series of critical talks about the situation, expectations, style, resources, and your personal development. Crucially, it means developing and gaining consensus on your 90-day plan.
6. ACHIEVE ALIGNMENT. The higher you rise in an organization, the more you have to play the role of organizational architect. This means figuring out whether the organization's strategy is sound, bringing its structure into alignment with its strategy, and developing the systems and skills bases necessary to realize strategic intent.
7. BUILD YOUR TEAM. If you are inheriting a team, you will need to evaluate its members. Perhaps you need to restructure it to better meet demands of the situation. Your willingness to make tough early personnel calls and your capacity to select the right people for the right positions are among the most important drivers of success during your transition.
8. CREATE COALITIONS. Your success will depend on your ability to influence people outside your direct line of control. Supportive alliances, both internal and external, will be necessary to achieve your goals.
9. KEEP YOUR BALANCE. The risks of losing perspective, getting isolated, and making bad calls are ever present during transitions. The right advice-and-counsel network is an indispensable resource
10. EXPEDITE EVERYONE. Finally, you need to help everyone else - direct reports, bosses, and peers - accelerate their own transitions. The quicker you can get your new direct reports up to speed, the more you will help your own performance.
This book is not only relevant on the individual level. This transition process for new managers happens so often that it should be handled with more professionalism by (big) organizations. Whereas we as managers try to work actively with introduction programmes and training for new employees, then many managers must face their transition challenge alone. It shouldn't be like that. The "sink or swim" approach should be doomed.
Peter Leerskov,
MSc in International Business (Marketing & Management) and Graduate Diploma in E-business
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on 19 December 2014
If you're moving up the career ladder - either through internal promotion or by joining another company - then this book will serve as a useful guide as to how to make a good impact in those first few months.

Reassuringly there was much in the book that I'd already considered doing during the first days in my new role. There was also much that I hadn't considered and will be putting into practice.

In short, this book provides the tactics and strategy you need to make a good impression in your new job and to keep your focus on those things that are most important. It's a good read and well worth the investment.
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on 16 September 2014
Easy to read, logical approach to leadership for new leaders. The book takes the mystery out of success or failure - I was interested in the subject in relation to school leadership and although the book is written for a business audience, most of it is transferable to any context. I especially appreciated being introduced to the STARS portfolio. Useful when job searching to identify a situation that might fit well as well as after appointment since there are STARS within organizations too. There is much to learn in a new role and reading this early could save quite a bit of time and unnecessary stress. I am very happy I made this purchase.
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