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The first 90 days

Graphic of a cartoon manLisa Mashburn, associate director of career and leadership at UNC Kenan-Flagler, led a webinar based on the book “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins.

The first three months of a new job are crucial. You’ve got to gain credibility, make a positive impression and set yourself up to succeed.

You might encounter a few obstacles. If you’re an external hire, you’ve got to learn the structure, networks and cultural expectations at the company. If you’re being promoted from within, you could be managing people who used to be your peers.

It takes time to build trust and understanding, but you can use these strategies to make the most out of your first 90 days.

Separate yourself from your old role.

Mentally break from your old role so you can objectively assess yourself and the requirements of your new job. Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses and consider how you can apply them to your new role. If there are gaps in the skills you need, don’t let them hold you back and plan how to address them. And keep in mind that as you progress in your career, interpersonal skills become more important than technical skills.

Accelerate your learning.

Before your first day, study the industry and company to prepare yourself for everything else that you need to learn. Then schedule time with your boss to discuss what is most important for you to learn and create a detailed plan outlining what you should learn first. During the meeting set monthly learning goals and work objectives. Also try to learn three small things each day about anything from people to company culture – and be sure write them down. Putting thoughts on paper encourages retention and clarity, and brings them one step closer to reality.

Match your strategy to situation and structure.

Take into account the stage of the company you’re joining. The environment and people at a startup are very different from a company attempting a turnaround or one sustaining success. Look at the skills and processes needed and consider whether people with the right skills are in the right place.

Build your team and create alliances.

If you are being promoted from within, leave the past in the past. There is a possibility that someone on your team wanted the promotion you received, so be mindful of how that could affect the dynamic. To succeed and perform for your company, establish a team with a solid core. You might need to sacrifice a bit of stability to make changes to your team.

Be aware of who your supporters, opponents and “persuade-ables” are outside of your team. In most companies there is a landscape of blocks and alliances. Figure out how you are going to work with everyone in these groups.

Secure early wins.

Securing an early win might seem obvious, but it’s important that you get the right type of win. Make sure that it is a win in the eyes of your boss and company and not just your team.

Start with the end in mind. Once you identify the goal, prioritize, identify support and adjust your actions so they fit the team and culture.

Jobs and situations differ, so use these strategies to create a plan. Remember if you’re ever unsure or confused, start asking questions. When you’re promoted, you become a beginner again because you’re coming from something that you were good at to something you’ve never done before. Your boss and company won’t expect you to know everything at first.


By Kelly McNeil (BSBA ’18)