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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Watkins’

…Transitions are critical times when small differences in your actions can have disproportionate impacts on results.  Leaders, regardless of their level, are most vulnerable in their first few months in a new position because they lack detailed knowledge of the challenges they will face and what it will take to succeed in meeting them; they also have not yet developed a network of relationships to sustain them.  Failure to create momentum during the first few months virtually guarantees an uphill battle for the rest of your tenure in the job.
    —    Michael Watkins
From his book:  “The First 90 Days
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[The problem with succession planning systems in companies is:]  …most existing systems fall short, in both evaluation and development, because they lack a framework for characterizing developmental assignments.  Without such a framework, it is problematic to make comparisons between high-potential individuals placed in dissimilar situations.  Succession planners also lack a way of describing — and thus managing — the sequence of positions through which high-potential leaders progress.
   —    Michael Watkins
From his book:  “The First 90 Days
[In other words, jobs are different and people are different, so there is NO reliable way to “groom” high-potential individuals in any company, let alone in any field of endeavor.  Even the same job is different in a few years.  Even the same person is different with a little more age (and/or experience).  “Grooming” is actually advance rewarding of someone who might be able to do the job when it needs doing and when they are placed in the position of responsibility.  It is not a systematic way of preparing a number of potential candidates to see which rise to the occasion and become the great captains of industry.  Why it (succession planning, leadership development programs) is done is usually political, not based on rational selection or merit.  Unfortunately, it seems meritocracy is as big an illusion as security.
Not even the King can be sure his heir will be worthy of the throne (but at least the Queen can certify the Prince has passed the first test – legitimacy!)   —    KMAB]
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On Monday, 15 November 2010, I finished reading “The First 90 Days“, (2003©) by Michael Watkins.  The book is intended to offer ideas on how a person entering a management job can increase their chances to be successful in their new position by suggesting guidelines/strategies for the first ninety days in the job.  The premise is that if you start well, you’ll have a much easier time in the medium term (after the first 90 days) and the success will carry you through to your next job – when you’ll presumably have to re-read the book to refresh yourself on its tips.
My initial reaction to the book was extremely positive.  It does NOT offer a lot of new ideas, but it does present a lot of ideas in an organized manner.  The tone is a bit stuffy and formal (academic) and the short chapter intro “case studies” are simplistic (if not trite).  The book is really also geared to larger companies and more senior middle-management positions, although it tries to imply it is useful at all levels in all types of businesses.  I guess, maybe it is useful but I don’t think anybody above second level supervisor would get much out of it – except maybe as an instruction tool for helping junior supervisors to think about being mid-level managers.
For me, the meat of the book is in the introduction.  The first interesting idea is the concept of a breakeven point: basically, a new person has about three-and-a-half-months to begin adding value or they will be seen as “unsuccessful”.  It takes an additional three months before you reach the breakeven point.  Presumably, the longer it takes you to reach the “add value” point, the longer it will take you to reach the “break even” point.  The author never really explains this or even if it true from his experience.  This 90 day period is interesting to me because, in my own personal experience, IT projects which cannot be projected as completed within 90 days of starting are generally failures – or at least, weak and limping-along “successes”.  I have always attributed this to a failure of attention span by project members.  It seems as if there may be a deeper, psychological factor.  The 90 day and 6 month dates come from the author’s experience and from polls of senior executives.
A second interesting statement is the “average” rising star stays in their position about two-and-one-half-years.  “Regular” managers tend to be in a given position 4 to 5 years.  This means you have 90 days to begin adding value, about 24 months to add value, and then 90 days to find and transfer to your new job.  Of course this assumes you can “find” the new job in the window for stardom.  It strikes me as strange that most industries have an annual business cycle, but they seem to be able to recognize a great manager in less than one half of an annual cycle.  Presumably, stars are able to master their current job in less than two cycles.  I would find this extremely improbable.  This should lead to the question of what is it that actually makes / gets rising stars promoted so much faster than average managers.  The author acknowledges there are stars, but doesn’t make any effort to explain their exceptionalism.
Unfortunately, the author doesn’t go into the things I found the most interesting in the introduction.  The book does go into the what to do and what to think about a lot, though – and this is its strength.  If you are looking for this type of guidance, and most new supervisors and managers ARE, this book will be very useful.  If you are looking for a how-to-do something, again, I think it falls down a bit.  In fairness to the author, the book would have to be several times thicker if it tried to do how-to as well as what-to, because then he would also need to add why-to.  And the volume becomes an encyclopedia…
All in all, I still highly recommend this book.  It offers a lot and what’s offered is reasonably well organized.
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