If you know someone about to take a new job (and in this recession that’s a lot of people), tell them to read The First 90 Days. It’s the best book we’ve seen on the psychology of succeeding in a new organization, and has implications for ongoing management roles as well.
Here’s the gist: New managers have 90 days to prove themselves; your first three months set the momentum for your ongoing victories or failures; you won’t succeed without a specific plan and milestones; and what helped you succeed in the past is not necessarily the same skill set required to thrive. For example, one major mistake new managers make is not recognizing the organizational context. Author Michael Watkins suggests there are four types of organizations, each with different needs:
4. Sustaining success
Based on your organization’s psychology, you need to play a different game. In a start-up, people are excited but lack direction, so successful managers need to channel energy into rapid but focused execution. Turnarounds require overcoming demoralization. Realignment companies often require battling bureaucracy and denial (“this can’t be done!”) before the organization can reinvent itself. And sustaining-success organizations may sound ideal, but managers will battle complacency.
Watkins recounts the story of a brilliant former CEO for Coca-Cola who rose quickly through the ranks, a real numbers guy. Douglas Ivester knew the organization, was named CFO by age 37, was soon COO, and when the top executive suddenly died he seemed the perfect replacement. But Ivester didn’t let go of the numbers, refused to hire a new COO, and reportedly fumbled strategic decisions such as acquisitions and a Coke contamination scandal in Europe. What made him succeed in the past had not prepared him for the future. Ivester erred as CEO, Watkins writes, because he didn’t adapt his past brilliance to the new role’s context.
As the world struggles in recession, organizations themselves can change. Managers who have thrived for decades should look around carefully and see if the needs of their team are changing. Is your sustaining-success group sliding into a reorganization, or worse, a turnaround situation? If so, how must you adjust your skills to fit the new dynamic?
Organizations are complex things. If you’re stepping into a new one, you better understand your environment. Book summary is here.