New Leaders: Your First 90 Days

new leadersSo you’ve made it past the interviews, the reference checks, the negotiation, and now you’re in that dream job. How to make the most of a new start? How will you set yourself (and your team) up for success?

In any new organization, there is a learning curve. I’ve seen executives approach this in a variety of ways, and the most successful approaches for new leaders always incorporate listening and assessing first reactions before making big changes.

Entrance interviews

Many new leaders begin a new job doing a “listening tour.”  To hit the ground running and making a positive difference, new leaders are tempted to start making critical decisions on day one. Unless you already have a deep and wide understanding of the organization and its culture, you will want to give yourself some time to assess the situation before making decisions that might have implications you can’t yet anticipate.

These early interviews should be broad and include a variety of viewpoints – like an informal 360, your boss or the Board, your peers, your internal and external customers, your direct reports, and a few others who might share a more candid view. The questions are pretty simple, “What do you most want to see from me in this role?” and “What is the one thing I could do to make this organization better?” Start there and begin gathering a list of things you want to do. Don’t do them yet, just capture them on a list. After you’ve been in the job six months, you won’t remember what it felt like to look at the organization with fresh eyes, and these notes will help you remember and keep you focused on the big picture.

“After you’ve been in the job six months, you won’t remember what it felt like to look at the organization with fresh eyes.”


One of the most important records you will keep is of the questions that arise as you talk to people. These are often the important questions you will want to keep asking in your role, as they often point to clear areas for focus. Once you feel you have a good sense of what needs to happen first, make sure you aren’t revising that opinion with each new interview. Then, you can look for an early win and begin taking action.

Establishing a culture

Every organization has a culture, and each new leader makes shifts, small or large, in that culture. You know how you like to work – do you need to see written reports each week? Or, do you prefer to have a more free-form staff meeting to hear the important updates? Which decisions do you want to make yourself, versus those you would rather delegate? Being clear with your team helps them know how to interact with you and what information to share with you.

When you are brought into to create a change, notice the feel of the organization when you arrive. Is it quiet or noisy? Is there a lot of interaction, or do people stay in their workspaces? Are meetings focused, or rambling? How do these work habits contribute to the challenges of the organization? Which ones would make the most difference if changed?

Systems Thinking for New Leaders 

Keep in mind that culture, people, business model and processes are interactive systems. Shifting any one of these triggers a need to shift the others. Where are your biggest priorities for change, and what systems do you need to support that change? Which people could you recruit as enthusiastic supporters and champions of the change, and who will be most resistant? Which practices and values support the change most closely and how can you emphasize that connection?  In order to support the change, which processes need to be modified?

By thinking holistically about the organization, you can begin to build momentum behind a change. Consequently, you avoid being blindsided by built-in resistance in areas you weren’t even considering.

Celebrate Often

Even if the changes you are making are welcomed by many (and especially if they are not!), look for positive behaviors and small wins. Find signs that changes are happening and celebrate them. Mention people and events by name in team meetings. Take the moment to walk to a team member’s office and thank them for a new process they are embracing. Organize a spontaneous bagel breakfast or social hour, or just a group coffee break to announce progress, milestones, and forward momentum. By making the time to celebrate, you help the team think of those events as positive and encourage them to keep moving forward.

With these tips, your first 90 days will fly by before you know it, and your organization will begin building positive momentum for success! 


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