Saturday, October 24, 2009

90-Day Plan

A colleague of mine is a candidate for a job at a public utility.  She's had a few great interviews, which doesn't surprise me at all because she's an outstanding manager and generally a great person to be around.  For the last round, the company asked her to provide a plan for her first 90 days, should she be selected for the position.

I've always hated that question.  In the past, when I've been asked that, I've insisted that in such a short amount of time, I'll be lucky to get to know the key players and the location of the restrooms, much less get anything serious accomplished.  Even while giving it, I knew that was a terrible answer; therefore, I was glad the question came up again now, so I could think about a better one while not under the critical gaze of a CEO.

In reality, I had provided one of the best answers, but by just sort of throwing it out there I'd not given it the respect it deserves.  In the first 90 days, only a few of your goals will be true business objectives -- you don't even know what they are yet!  Rather, most of your mission during those first few months will be, dare I say it, People Centered.

In no particular order:
  • Meet every person on the team individually.

    I've been amazed by the positive reception I've had to simply setting up individual meeting with each member of my staff, no matter how many levels down the org chart they may be. That response tells me that senior leaders aren't doing this nearly often enough.  Meet with your employees, find out what they love about their job and what concerns them.  Find out what makes them get up every morning and show up at work.
  • Meet each department head. 

    If you're in IT, then odds are your customers are internal as well as external.  Start with the internal folks.  Get a sense of their priorities and mission, and how well they think your group is meeting their needs. Find out what else your group could be doing to support them.
  • Meet semi-weekly at first, then weekly with your boss.

    Creating an initial 90-day plan is a great opportunity to set the expectation in your future boss' mind that you're going to look for some one-on-one time over the first several weeks. In those meetings, find out what his priorities are, and how well your team has been meeting them up until now. As time goes on, make sure that you and your boss stay on the same page.
  • Review any pending job openings in your group.

    If possible, put them on hold until you are given sufficient chance to evaluate your organization:  you may want to make some changes, or look for an opportunity to promote from within.
  • Set up regular team “all-hands” meetings and begin holding them.

    The content of the meetings matters much less than the fact of having them.
Of course, there are a few pure business matters that do require your early attention as well:
  • Review existing performance metrics.

    You don't know what they are, but you have some idea what they ought to be.  See what you've got, then decide on some new ones you'd like to see and get started producing them.
  • Are there any fires that need attention right away?

    You'd hope your future boss would let you know about this prior to your coming on board, but she may have avoided the subject.  Or, she may not even realize that there's an immediate problem.  Make it a priority to determine if one exists, and if so, to get it fixed.
  • If your prospective boss did mention any near-term priorities in the course of the interview process, be sure those are given due attention in your plan.

    Doing so demonstrates that you were listening, and that you are already on the same page with your new boss.
  • Determine where your greatest exposure is, and make sure it's covered.

    In a recent leadership position I held, it took me a little too long to realize that there was one group in particular which was both not in good shape and had the ability to completely blow me out of the water.  I was eventually given plenty of opportunities to wish I'd noticed that sooner.
Ultimately, the 90-day plan is a great opportunity for you to illustrate to a prospective employer that you have been around the block a couple of times – that you know where the land mines are and how to avoid them. In fact, if your potential future boss doesn't ask you for one, consider providing one anyway, thus letting her know that you are thoughtful, focused, and, most importantly, that you read this blog.

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