Playbook for a New Leader’s First 90 Days on the Job

Guest post from Kristin Harper:


The first 90 days of a leaders’ tenure set the foundation for their future success. Below are five time-tested approaches for new leaders to get off to a fast start.  I’ve written about these and other crucial tools for helping leaders improve relationships, gain executive presence and succeed in my new book, The Heart of a Leader: 52 Emotional Intelligence Insights to Advance Your Career.

1) Focus on Learning and Listening

Prior to starting a new role, read as much as you can, for as far back as you can about the business, strategy, plans, performance, people, opportunities, and challenges. Meet with your predecessor and other stakeholders to ask questions that seek to understand and not judge. Forming conclusions and making decisions too early in your role can be disastrous. Marry your independent research with insightful conversations to accelerate your on-boarding and business mastery.

During your first 90 days, absorb as much information and insight as possible. Besides periodic questions aimed at deepening your understanding of the organization, business, people, and processes, most of your time should be spent listening. Capture your hypotheses, ideas, and observations in a journal. As you meet more people and learn about the business, validate or invalidate your hypotheses, which will become the basis of your future vision, strategies, and/or operational plans.

2) Establish Yourself as both a Person and Leader

Change of any magnitude naturally causes anxiety. Ease your new team’s worries by hosting a Day 1 meeting. This is your first opportunity to establish your personal brand. Demonstrate self-awareness and authenticity by sharing the following content, which will help build trust, establish expectations, and accelerate relationship development with your new colleagues:

A summary of who you are as a person and leader, what you believe, how those values and beliefs guide your actions, and how you operate

– Why you accepted this role

– What you are committed to for the team, business, organization, and culture

– Address questions and concerns

– Team introductions plus an interesting fact or icebreaker

– Paint a picture of the next few weeks

– Close with your optimism about working with this team

– Consider telling stories, which demonstrate vulnerability, emotional intelligence, and can help create connections that translate to a more motivated team.

3) Build Multiple Relationships

Within your first week on the job, host 1-hour on-boarding meetings with each of your direct reports. Within the first two months, host a 30-minute 1:1 meeting with team members across multiple levels in your organization plus cross-functional colleagues. In preparation for these meetings, review the organizational chart, form a cursory understanding of their roles and projects, and read their last performance review and résumé, if they’re on your team.

Onboarding meetings are one of few meetings without much two-way dialogue. Send the following questions as a preview, then listen and take notes as they share:

Tell me about your background.

2) What motivates you?

3) What are your professional goals?

4) What should we Start/Stop/Continue?

Be cautious not to rush to judgment about talent during 1:1 onboarding meetings. Give yourself 60-90 days to determine if you have the right mix of talent to achieve the goals and objectives.

4) Stay Connected

Engage with your team through impromptu conversations, team meetings with direct reports, 1:1s with direct reports, all-team meetings, annual skip-level meetings, quarterly development conversations and end-of-year performance reviews. Monthly all-team meetings help build camaraderie, and provide a forum for recognition, to discuss business performance and key projects. These meetings also provide an opportunity for your team to demonstrate their talent, and for you to demonstrate inspirational leadership.

5) Reflect and Envision

After 90 days, reflect on what you’ve learned, key observations, and early wins. Share this information with your manager as a head start to your performance review. Reflect on what changes could make the biggest differences in the outcomes, performance, and culture of the business and team. Then develop your vision, objectives, strategies, goals, measures, action plan, and solicit feedback from your direct reports, wise council, cross-functional colleagues, and manager.

Once you’ve secured buy-in, cascade the vision and measurable goals throughout the team. Be cautious about change fatigue. Changing too much at once could overwhelm your team, dilute the impact, and put them on the defense if not done thoughtfully.

Creating a culture of trust, open communication, accountability, recognition, and commitment to a common vision is the #1 job of a leader. These strategies and tactics will help you engage your team, develop healthy relationships, and build a healthy culture that delivers stronger results. 

Kristin Harper is CEO of Driven to Succeed, LLC, a leadership development company that provides brand strategy consulting, market research, and keynote speaking on leadership and emotional intelligence. She is also author of The Heart of a Leader: 52 Emotional Intelligence Insights to Advance Your Career. www.DriventoSucceedLLC.com.

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