Your First 90 Days as a Manager


Your first 90 days as a manager are a critical time. You are the new guy so you are entitled to ask ‘silly questions’ but it is important that you learn and you don’t ask those same questions again a year down the line. You are also picking up things but at the same time you are expected to start delivering soon. The balance between what you know, what you feel you should know and what you are expected to know is not always easy to maintain or monitor. There will be times in which you are confident you have figured something out and then something will make you realize you actually didn’t. Your team seems be doing a lot of work but it doesn’t all make sense and you feel there must be a better way of doing things but you are not sure how just yet. You are also probably wondering how much and how soon you should start changing things.

What are then the first steps to be taken as a new manager in order to set yourself and your team up for success?

Create a 30-60-90 days plan

Break down the first 90 days into a 30-60-90 days plan. What do you want to have accomplished at the end of each period and what will you still need after the initial 90 days?

You probably don’t want to start changing things on your first day on the job before you understand certain key dynamics and processes. Give yourself, and the team, some time before you start changing things around. There are usually enough things to learn and understand first. Here is how a breakdown of the first 90 days can look like:

30 days – Listen, learn and reflect – this is a time to absorb information and reflect back on what you have learnt.

60 days – Listen, learn, reflect, evaluate and propose – after the initial wave of information and now that you have had some time to absorb it, you can start evaluating together with your team what opportunities and quick-win exist and propose the first small changes.

90 days – Listen, learn, reflect, evaluate, propose and implement – if there is consensus around the changes proposed then this is a good time to start implementing.

Ongoing – Listen, learn, reflect, evaluate, propose, implement, measure – after the initial 90 days and after you have implemented the initial changes it’s time to measure and evaluate the changes. Did you achieve what you wanted to achieve? How was the exercise for the team? What will you repeat and what you will avoid in the future?

This is what a 30-60-90 days plan could look like

30-60-90 days plan

30-60-90 days plan example

During the first 90 days as a manager it is also crucial to start investing time in some fundamental aspects: knowing the business and the team, understanding the processes and the systems.

Know the business

If you are new to the company get to know the business by understanding the product or service provided and understanding the customer.  Find the right people, meet them and ask all the questions you need to ask in order to understand what the company is all about.

Depending on your role you might want to ask questions around the product creation process, the target consumer, what sells and what doesn’t and why.

Invest time in getting a solid and deep understanding of the company’s value proposition. What kind of value does the company provide to whom.

Know the Team

Equally important to understanding what the company is all about is getting to know the team that you will manage. As a manager you will have to enable their performance and develop their talent. Modern management is about coaching and in order to be a good coach you need to be able to adapt your coaching style to the characteristics of the person being coached. In order to know how to adapt to the different individuals in the team you will need to know them and understand their needs, their strengths and their development points.

Set-up initial 1 on 1 conversations with everyone in the team. Ask them what they want you to know, what is important for them and what expectations they have. You can also use this time to start clarifying your own expectations. This is however not the time for big announcements and promises. You are not in that position yet and this could backfire soon putting dents in the relationship with your team which is the last thing you want. This is where you start getting to know your team.

Understand the processes

Some people prefer to ‘work-shadow’ members of their team while others prefer to ask questions whenever one pops in their mind. Regardless of the approach, take the necessary time to understand the most important processes. Make sure you understand where a certain process begins and where it ends (for instance, if you are managing a team responsible for deliveries, the process will probably begin when an order is entered and will end when that same order is delivered and signed for by the customer). Ask why certain steps are taken and possibly why then and not at a different time or by another team.

Understand the systems

Depending on your specific role you might want to know more or less details about the systems being used. The important thing is that it is clear to you how the system or systems support the different processes and not the other way round.

For a new manager the journey ahead is paved with all kinds of challenges but these can be turned into opportunities to learn, grow, develop and coach others. Integrating these key learning aspects in your 30-60-90 days plan will set you up for a strong start as a manager.

Have you created your own 30-60-90 plan? How did it go? What did you find difficult and what did you find easy to do? What have you learnt from this experience and how will you apply it in the future?



Dealing with Multiple Priorities

Dwight D. Eisenhower

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed and even discouraged when despite your best effort you see that your to-do list just keeps getting longer and longer?
You just can’t win and you are not quite sure what to do. E-mails are pouring in and deadlines are approaching fast and just when you think you might after all be able to get a grip on the situation, unless a crisis occur, well, a crisis occur. At least what is presented to you as a crisis. The question though is whether everything in your list is equally urgent and equally important. Probably not!

Being able to distinguish what is urgent and what is important is the first and most crucial step to be able to deal with multiple and sometimes conflicting priorities.

You work with a team and you have a number of available hours in a day and days in a week. Tasks can be delegated or planned accordingly and things will get done at the right time and by the right person without you running around like a headless chicken.

Work smart, don’t work hard!

Trying to do everything at the same time, working extra hours, taking on all kinds of tasks indistinctly, indicates that you are working hard. It might also mean that at the end of the day you have probably done a lot and extinguished a lot of fires but you have experienced very little sense of accomplishment.

Dealing with each situation in the proper manner instead is a way to work smart. You will get more tasks completed, hit more deadlines, deliver better quality and feel way less stressed than you did.

How do you do that? Like I mentioned, the key is in distinguishing between important items and urgent items.
Some of the things you need to deal with may be very urgent but not very important and consequently there may be items that are very important but not urgent.

Define Urgent, Define Important

In order to define whether something is urgent you just have to look at the deadline. If you have a deadline within the next 30 minutes you are probably looking at something urgent. Or, is it? Unless we are talking about a legal or a medical deadline for instance, you can always try to negotiate the actual deadline. The easiest way to do this is by asking the requester:”what is the latest you will need this by?” or “is it a possibility to postpone this by [x amount of time]?”

Often you will be able to negotiate a deadline and in that case you just bought yourself some time.

If that is not the case then your non-negotiable 30 minutes deadline definitely falls in the urgent items.

Now, how do you define if something is important or not?

The importance of an item you need to deal with it is not determined by the clock but by the purpose it serves and the value it has. In a typical office environment, important items are for instance those in line with strategic objectives and priorities. If a deliverable is necessary to enable the company strategy then that is an important item. If more items appear to be important and you can’t decide which is more important than the other then you can discuss this with your manager or with your team according to the situation. ideally you would be looking at the benefit this important item can bring or at the consequences of not completing this task.

The Eisenhower Decision Matrix

Once you have a clear idea of which urgent items you are dealing with and which important items and how urgent and important these are, you can then use a simple matrix to decide what to do.

The two axis matrix here below is known as an “Eisenhower Box” or “Eisenhower Decision Matrix”. Items are placed in according quadrants that will indicate how to handle tasks.

The Eisenhower Matrix

Important and urgent items are dealt with personally and immediately.
Important but not urgent items are dealt with personally.
Urgent but not important items are delegated.
Items that are neither urgent nor important can either wait or can be dropped.

Being able to delegate is a necessary part of a manager’s skill set. In future posts I will tell how to delegate the right tasks to the right people.

In the meantime, as simple and as intuitive as this matrix is, you now have a tool to help you prioritize and deal with multiple conflicting priorities effectively.

Suggested reading:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Paperback)

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