When it was first published in 2003, “The First 90 Days” was conceived as a book for leaders in transition. It was written to help them diagnose their situations, define core challenges and design plans to create momentum. Hundreds of thousands of leaders have benefited from the approach, which independent research has shown speeds up time to full performance by as much as 40 percent.
The recently published 10th anniversary edition of the book has been updated in many ways. For example, there is much more focus on the types of transitions leaders experience — exploring the differences among being promoted, joining a new organization and making a geographic move. There also are improvements to many of the basic frameworks, for example the STARS model — for startup, turnaround, accelerated growth, realignment and sustaining success — and how leaders should use it to match their transition strategies to the situations they face.
The most important expansion of the book, however, is a new chapter written specifically for HR and learning professionals on how companies can accelerate everyone and make transitions at all levels. When a new leader fails to thrive, it’s a severe blow to the individual. But every failed transition — whether outright derailment or less dramatic underperformance — exacts costs from the organization. This is particularly the case at senior levels, as these quotes from an independent study of the impact of transition programs and coaching at Johnson & Johnson highlight:
• “In one business, under a struggling new leader, growth slowed by half in one region. When you look at the after-tax impact, it amounted to $7 million to 8 million.”
• “Initiatives were not undertaken and results were not met. A new product launch was delayed. When new product development problems arise, the impact of a poor transition could be $100 million.”
• “A key cost is loss of talent. There is a huge cost that goes beyond direct dollars. High potentials are a scarce resource and we’re tough on them. If they don’t make it, you’ve washed out a high potential.”
The magnitude of the impact becomes even more obvious when one considers that roughly a quarter of all the leaders in typical Fortune 500 companies change jobs each year. Executives have even higher rates of transition — more than 30 percent per year in the top three tiers of leadership in one recent study, with two-thirds moving internally and one-third being hired from the outside. And each transition materially impacts the performance of about a dozen people surrounding the leader — peers, direct reports and bosses.
Success in helping everyone get up to speed faster makes the whole organization more nimble and responsive. “We would much rather have people who invest time getting to know the organization, the culture, building their network and so on, so they then can be in a position to be successful in the future,” said Michael Ehret, leadership and development vice president at Johnson & Johnson, who has used the First 90 Days approach to accelerate executives for more than a decade.
Think about what happens when a business goes through a significant change event — a restructuring, a phase of rapid growth or integration of an acquisition. Every major change creates a ripple of leader transitions throughout the organization. Getting in place the right structure and systems and staffing the key positions is only the first phase of change implementation. To achieve planned objectives, such as acquisition synergy targets, strategic direction must be driven down through the organization. Clarity about roles, responsibilities and decision rights must be established, and relationship building must be accelerated.
The bottom line is that companies should invest in enterprise acceleration solutions: adopt a common core framework and toolkit to speed up both individual and organizational transitions. This framework and tool kit can be implemented through coaching, in-person and virtual workshops, self-guided e-learning systems and blended approaches, depending on the level of the leader and the magnitude of the transition he or she is facing.
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