A friend recently accepted a senior leadership position in an established organization. She asked for my suggestions on how to “put her best foot forward” in her new job.

My proposed 90-day plan enables the leader to 1) learn the organization’s perception of it’s purpose and strategy, 2) clarify desired expectations for all players, and 3) align plans, decisions, and actions to best serve customers, stakeholders, and staff.

Your First 30 Days’ Mantra: LEARN

The first phase is one of observation. Resist the urge to “fix things” immediately. The leader must gather data, through written documents and interviews, regarding the organization’s current purpose, values, strategy, and goals.

The leader needs to understand how the organization is structured today, what staff and volunteers believe the organization’s customers need, and how well those needs are being met. What are the details of the organization finances? Neutral, factual data help highlight the current operation’s strengths and opportunities.

The leader needs to learn about their players – staff and volunteer roles, their passions and skills, and even their social styles. Finally, the leader needs to share their leadership point of view with their team: their philosophy, their expectations of others, what others can expect of them.

Your Second 30 Days’ Mantra: CLARIFY

This phase requires putting expectations into place. Expectations may be refinements of existing plans or they may be more formal outlines. The leader must describe WHAT targets are and HOW team members will deliver on those targets.

The leader must first formalize the organization’s vision, values, valued behaviors, strategies, and goals. Valued behaviors define what a “good citizen” looks, sounds, and acts like in the organization. The leader shares all these with team members and secures team member commitment to them. Plans, decisions, and actions that serve the organization’s vision, values, strategies, and goals are supported; those that don’t, are not.

The leader then engages team members in discussions to gain agreement about their individual goals and standards, and describes accountability systems to ensure goal delivery by every player (including the leader!).

Your Third 30 Days’ Mantra: ALIGN

The final phase of my recommended 90-day plan requires the leader to align activities to declared expectations. Effective accountability means the leader utilizes a combination of positive consequences and negative consequences to maintain traction towards desired outcomes and citizenship by all team members.

Positive consequences may include praising progress and accomplishment, honoring teamwork and cooperation, delegating earned authority and responsibility, and increasing trust of a team member’s independent action.

When the “playing field” is well-defined (vision, values, strategy, and goals are clear), talented team members streamline processes, solve problems, and increase efficiency.

Negative consequences may include clarifying goal standards, redirecting to ensure the team member understands how the work is to be completed, reinforcing valued behaviors, and, when necessary if talented team members do not apply skills, reprimanding to clarify expectations and deadlines. NOTE: never reprimand a learner – if a team member hasn’t demonstrated required skills, the leader needs to be in “skill building/coaching” mode.

If, after coaching, a team member is still unable to perform to standard or to behave according to the organization’s valued behaviors, progressive discipline is in order. If that doesn’t align behavior, lovingly set the team member free (from employment with your organization).

Following these three keys over 90 days will enable many leaders to increase clarity, align activities, and create discretionary energy in their organization.

What is your “first 90 days” experience as a leader? Share your insights, comments, and questions in the comments section below.

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S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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Reader Interactions


  1. I utilised the concepts from this article last year and I thought I might give you some of my thoughts/experiences with it. I was actually departing my newly formed team within the next 100 days (impending motherhood) and I was looking to establish the new team, create necessary culture change, define my position and role, and set them free at the same time. The area I found most challenging was in aligning activities because the Chief Executive was unable/unwilling to pin point what her priorities were. She was also incredibly fearful of my impending departure but found it difficult to trust others to take on tasks she’d normally assign to me and my team. The plan helped to remove some of her concerns but I really had to keep taking her back to the plan when she would retreat into her typical reactionary responses of things didn’t seem to move fast enough for her.

    • Terrific that this approach worked for you, Natalie!

      It is not uncommon for senior leaders to be unsure of specific strategies and priorities. By making a bold claim, those leaders must adhere to the plan over time – and it can feel “restricting.”

      The reality is – as you so eloquently state – that without specifically defined priorities, “any road looks inviting.” The lack of clear purpose, values, strategies, and goals create confusion!

      Planning is a good thing – keep on it!