30-60-90 Day Plan for Executives: The Ultimate Guide - Xquadrant (2022)

Table of Contents
19 powerful questions you need to ask The problem with most advice on 30-60-90 day plans for executives What mistake are you likely to make in your 30-60-90 Day Plan? New Leader 30-60-90 Plan for Executives: Overall Roadmap New Leader 30-60-90 Day Plan for Executives: Preparation Q1.Is there a winning strategy? Q2.Is there a readiness to change? Q3. What exactly does success look like? Q4. Do I have the resources to succeed? Q5. Why did you offer the role to me? New Leader 30-60-90 Day Plan for Executives: Day 0 Q6. What priorities do you see? Q7. How would you prefer we communicate? Q8. What do I need to know about decision-making? Q9. How might I sabotage my own success? Q10. What’s my leadership message? New Leader 30-60-90 Day Plan for Executives: Day 1 Q11. How will my first day communicate the values and the tone I want to set for the business? New Leader 30-60-90 Day Plan for Executives: Days 2-30 Q12. Who should I be speaking to? Who'd you warn me against? Q13. What is the festering wound that needs attention? Q14. What’s the Rallying Cry? New Leader 30-60-90 Plan for Executives: Days 31-60 Q15. What’s one simple, inexpensive thing we could do? Q16. What’s holding back execution? Q17. Who’s my trusted team? New Leader 30-60-90 Day Plan for Executives: Days 60-90 Q18. Am I communicating clearly & consistently? Q19. What ongoing rhythms do we need to install? Summary: keep these 19 questions to hand as you build and execute your 30-60-90 day plan You may also like... 40 surprising executive effectiveness tips from world-class experts The leadership power of ‘getting out of your head’ Leading calmly in the midst of chaos S9E09: 35 years as CEO … and the next chapter, with Adrian Weiler (Chair, Smart Freight Centre) S9E08: Practicing leadership as a craft, with Joshua Lachs (CEO, Moneythink) S8E20: Leading a turnaround and sale in 20 months, with Enrique Sacau (CEO, Kneip)

19 powerful questions you need to ask

If you’re taking on a new executive role, you will need a 30-60-90 day plan. The first three months are critical.As the consultancy McKinsey notes, successful leadership transitions result in 90% higher likelihood that teams will meet their performance goals, whereas unsuccessful transitions result in 20% lower engagement and 15% lower performance.

It is true that some books and analysts overplay the importance of 90 days. Investors will give onboarding CEOs around eight months to define a strategic vision and almost 24 months to turn around the business.

However, it’s important to build credibility and momentum early, especially if you are at a lower hierarchical level than CEO, and a 30-60-90 day new leader plan is a key tool to force you to get organised, get strategic, and get moving.

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The problem with most advice on 30-60-90 day plans for executives

The idea of a new leader 30-60-90 day plan for executives is common, and there are many articles, blogs and books on the topic. However, they tend to fall down in two ways:

  • Longer articles are overly detailed.These feel like using a computer using enormous ring-bound manual. Great for reference, but hardly as a day-to-day guide.
  • Shorter articles are overly generic. “Build relationships with your team”, “Deliver some quick wins”, “Identify strategic priorities”. Who knew?!

Boston Consulting Group (2) asked 20 CEOs for their top advice about the first 90-100 days in position. Here are some of the key quotes. Personally I find this right up there in the 'overly vague' end of the scale!

“Diagnose first, decide second.”

“Follow your instincts.”

“Take notes, then prioritise and act.”

“Understand that as the head person, you have only three topics: people, strategy, and values. Everything else is secondary.”

“Find people you trust and use them for problem solving.”

A better, more agile approach to the 30-60-90 day plan for executives

Time for a new approach. In this article we provide:

  • A one-page roadmap, a simple list of 19 powerful questions to be answering during this critical 90-day period as a new leader
  • Something you can print, carry, and use to jot down thoughts against each question. This will help you see where you’re coming up short of answers, and be able to course correct as you go.
  • A month-by-month roadmap, so you don’t have to be looking at all the questions all the time.

You can also downloada one-page PDF “cheat sheet” for simple reference by clicking the link below.

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What mistake are you likely to make in your 30-60-90 Day Plan?

Korn Ferry researched leaders in Americas, Europe, and Asia and identified the top mistakes that senior executives make during their first 90-100 days:

  • Failing to establish strategic priorities - 24%
  • Waiting too long to implement change - 16%
  • Committing cultural gaffes and/or political suicide - 16%
  • Not spending enough face time with subordinates - 14%
  • Getting sidetracked by “fire drills” — having a short-term focus - 11%

They also researched the top thing that a senior executive must build into their new leader 30-60-90 day plan to succeed:

  • Articulate vision and goals - 25%
  • Form and solidify a team - 25%
  • Identify and address what’s important to key stakeholders - 16%
  • Understand and adapt to the culture - 14%
  • Identify the leverage points and the KPIs for success - 10%

Finally, Harvard Business Review surveyed executives to find the biggest errors and pitfalls in the first 90-100 days that impacted their ability to deliver the results they wanted:

  • Poor grasp of how the organisations works - 69%
  • Misfit with culture - 65%
  • Difficulty creating peer alliances - 57%
  • Lack of understanding the business model - 48%
  • Ineffective decision making - 31%

Know thyself, executive

Review the lists above. What's are the mistake you are most likely to make, when you rely on your instincts? What's the one thing you might overlook when constructing your plan?

New Leader 30-60-90 Plan for Executives: Overall Roadmap

There are 6 phases you need to be thinking through, and there are specific questions for each. You’ll notice that the first two of these are typically forgotten about by new leaders (at their peril!):

  • Preparation: CHOOSE A WINNABLE GAME
    Before you accept the new executive role, there’s some due diligence you need to do. Use these questions to make sure your new position isn’t doomed from the start!
  • Day 0: PREPARE FOR TAKEOFF
    This is the period between accepting the offer and turning up for the first day on the job. Most leaders fail to take advantage of this unique season, but it's a game changing opportunity to build relationships and insights before you arrive. Here are the questions you need to be asking during this period.
  • Day 1: BE THE MANIFESTO
    Your first day sends a big message. Here's the one critical question you need.
  • Days 2-30: FIND THE RALLYING CRY
    The first month of your executive 30-60-90 day plan is about understanding the people and the business issues, and validating your top strategic objective.
  • Days 31-60: MAKE YOUR MOVE
    The second month of your executive 30-60-90 day plan is when you’re likely to make some major moves, in terms of people and projects.
  • Days 61-90: KEEP IT UP
    The final month of your executive 30-60-90 day plan blends execution and preparation for the long term. Don't forget these questions as the honeymoon period draws to an end!

So, with the overall roadmap in mind, we can jump in to the questions. But for a deeper understanding, I recommend you check out the box below:

The power of CONTEXT to frame CONTENT

A piece of information, in isolation, is very difficult for us humans to process and evaluate. We need to compare it to something else. Apples to apples, or oranges to oranges.

It’s this CONTEXT that allows us to assign a level of "value" to the new piece of information.

Say I was talking to you about, say, some new videoconferencing software. Consider the difference between:

  • “It’s so good you don’t need to spend $1000 on airfare each time you want to run a meeting. The software costs $50 per month.”
  • “It’s so good it’s a real step up from using Skype for free. The software costs $50 per month.”

Similarly, when I coach leaders I often suggest they invent a catchphrase. It’s a great way to change culture and spread their way of thinking within their organisation.

The thing about a catchphrase is it needs context. Otherwise people won’t notice.

Simply saying “we have a saying around here” opens up a context for what is now going to be said. The expectation is that some valuable piece of insight and shared wisdom is about to be shared, and people listen up and pay attention.

The power of using CONTEXT to shape in your new leadership role.

There are six distinct phases to a successful 30-60-90 days as a new executive. The initial phases build context in a very specific way to make success way more likely. Indeed, one central phase is almost ALL about delivering a powerful context to the organisation.

New Leader 30-60-90 Day Plan for Executives: Preparation

CHOOSE A WINNABLE GAME.

Do your due diligence BEFORE you accept the role (which is a great reason to forward this article to anyone you know considering a job offer).

Before you sign on the dotted line, speak with different stakeholdersto validate that your 30-60-90 Day Plan for executives has a good chance of succeeding. Here are 5 questions to ask.

Q1.Is there a winning strategy?

You really want to know this before you start. You don’t want to get on a ship that’s already sunk! These follow-up questions can help you dig deeper (1):

  • What's our sustainable competitive advantage?
  • What are the risks, with collaborators, partners, trends?
  • What essential capabilities are missing?

Q2.Is there a readiness to change?

The lack of a winning strategy might not be a problem if the organisation is ready and willing to do what it needs to change. But if the readiness to change is not where it needs to be, you are setting yourself up for failure from the outset unless you are a seasoned turnaround expert.

Q3. What exactly does success look like?

Many leadership roles are a poisoned chalice from the start because of unrealistic or conflicting expectations among stakeholders. Speak with them and listen carefully for contradictions, uncertainty or signs of internal conflict.

Q4. Do I have the resources to succeed?

Specifically, make sure you that you have the necessary, authority, timeframe, and access to resources to be able to deliver against the success criteria you established in question 3.

Xavier took on a President role but failed to consider reporting lines and resources. He soon learned that his only direct reports were the heads of sales and business development. Marketing, finance, information, and HR didn't report to him. By taking the title of president, but not having the appropriate authority, he’d set himself up for failure from day 1.

Q5. Why did you offer the role to me?

This gets at the tricky question of personal fit. You need to be ruthless about your motivation, your skill set and your cultural match - otherwise you and your employer will be both heading for a rude awakening in a few months time.

For example, I’ve seen a number of cases where a VP in a tech giant has jumped into a CXO role in a hot start-up or scale-up, only to be shocked at the lack of resources and the need to ‘roll up their sleeves’ in the new firm.

"I am personally very disciplined around the first 90 or 100 days. Spend massive time within the teams to get a grip on the business and the culture; assess top management; have a defined vision and first roadmap at the end of the period and communicate around it; get two to three concrete results to demonstrate momentum."

- Thoughts on new leader 30-60-90 day plans from Pierre-Antoine Vacheron (CEO, Natixis Payments)

New Leader 30-60-90 Day Plan for Executives: Day 0

PREPARE FOR TAKEOFF.

“Day 0” is not just one day of the new leader 30-60-90 day plan: it's the period between your acceptance of the position and the first day on the job. Many executives ignore this period, with the excuse that they’re too busy handing over their previous role or taking a well-earned break.

However, this would be a mistake. The period is a fantastic time to prepare to hit the ground running and make an impression right on day 1. In the 'day 0 period', focus on drafting a messaging and communications plan, learning plan and stakeholder map.

Contacting key stakeholders before you begin will make a huge difference. If you do one thing from this entire article, do this!

You may like to contact:

  • Your direct manager
  • Board and advisors
  • Your most relevant peers
  • If possible, key customers and partners
  • Key direct reports

Q6. What priorities do you see?

Get a sense of what your stakeholders see as the most important opportunities and challenges to address. This is a listening and rapport exercise. You're looking for direction from senior stakeholders, for mutual understanding with peers, and for an understanding of the needs and issues facing your own reports.

Q7. How would you prefer we communicate?

Ask your stakeholders about how they would prefer to communicate: medium (email, call, coffee/chat,…), frequency, and how they prefer you to handle disagreements (for example: no-holds barred, discuss privately, or never, EVER, disagree with me!).

Q8. What do I need to know about decision-making?

Ask how decisions get made. Shaping decisions is going to be a key part of your 30-60-90 day plan, so find out about process, control points and vetos, who to keep in the loop, personalities to be aware of, and so on.

Q9. How might I sabotage my own success?

This is a question to be asking yourself during this period. It's a great moment to reinvent yourself, up your game and play at a higher level, so consider how your default patterns of behaviour are most likely to undermine you in the early months.

By way of example, you might have a tendency to under-communicate (if you're an introvert), fail to listen deeply (if you're an extravert), frustrate operationally-minded folk with vague inspirational speeches (if you're a visionary), or fail to step back from immediate operational requirements to develop fresh new strategies (if you're a hands-on leader).

Identify one or two key tendencies to be aware of.

Q10. What’s my leadership message?

This is the second question to be asking yourself during this 'day 0' period of your 30-60-60 day plan for executives.

Start preparing a ready-to-go message about who you are, why you’re here, what you believe in, and why people should listen to you. You’ll need to set some expectations from day one.

"I’ve reached out to some future colleagues and counterparts to introduce myself. You’re right—it is game changing. Everyone has reacted with warmth and candour, and it will make the first few weeks far more effective and enjoyable."

- Nathaniel

New Leader 30-60-90 Day Plan for Executives: Day 1

BE THE MANIFESTO.

Your first day sends huge messages, and you want to get it right so that your 30-60-90 day plan starts off in the best possible way.

Here’s the one big question to ask yourself to prepare for that moment.

Q11. How will my first day communicate the values and the tone I want to set for the business?

Your first day on the job will be a crucial moment, and you have the opportunity to make the most of the insights you’ve gained in the previous phases to structure your day so your actions speak as loud as your words.

For example, if you have built a message around “listening to the customer", then set things up so that you do just that on your very first day. If your message is that people are the most important part of the business, then how will you demonstrate that?

This checklist (from Bradt et al (1)) might give you a good first draft to work from:

  • Early-morning meeting with your boss to reconfirm and update.
  • Breakfast meeting with broad group to say hello (and not much more).
  • One-on-one meetings as appropriate.
  • Lunch with direct reports and their direct reports.
  • Afternoon activity/meetings/walkabout to reinforce key message.
  • End-of-day cocktails/coffee/social for more informal greetings.
  • Courtesy notes, voicemail for thanks or follow-up as needed.

Karen was joining a bank to integrate three separate divisions. Each divisional leader had an off-site meeting already planned for her first two weeks, and Karen initially decided to use those as a chance to meet the key individuals. However, these separate meetings perpetuated the culture of three different divisions instead of a single unified entity.

So to change direction, Karen rented a theatre for Day One and invited the entire staff of all three divisions. Then she introduced herself to her entire staff of her single entity at the same time, before kicking off a social event that got the three divisions mingling. She did go to the old divisions’ meetings, but only after setting the stage for the new approach.

"As a new leader you are absolutely sure to feel imposter syndrome. Fight it: you’ve earned this and I’m sure you’re here for a reason. Put your head down and do the work, you will succeed!"

- Thoughts on new leader 30-60-90 day plans from Gabriel Jarrosson (Founder, Leonis Investissement)

New Leader 30-60-90 Day Plan for Executives: Days 2-30

FIND THE RALLYING CRY

Days 2-30 of your new leader 30-60-90 day plan for executives are all about understanding the people and the business issues, and validating your #1 strategic objective.

Q12. Who should I be speaking to? Who'd you warn me against?

As you meet the most obvious stakeholders, get their view on the less obvious people to speak with. You’ll want to spend a good amount of time with people on the frontline of the business, such as salespeople and customers. But ask around for ideas.

Q13. What is the festering wound that needs attention?

“Understand the problems that reside on the balance sheet and communicate them early. You get one chance to erase the mistakes of your predecessors. Identify and deal with these legacy issues immediately.

Unpleasant surprises—obsolete inventory, insufficient warranty reserves, excessive goodwill, unresolved customer disputes, and festering litigation—have a way of hiding behind the numbers.” As Boston Consulting Group.

Q14. What’s the Rallying Cry?

Towards the end of the first 30 days you will probably want to bring your leadership team together to define the overall narrative of the business. This includes your purpose, your stakeholder expectations, your strategic anchors and definition of success

But most critical of all, this workshop needs to build agreement and clarity on the all-encapsulating phrase or tagline that defines the burning imperative in the business.

We call this "the rallying cry" - the #1 priority for the organisation right now.

Once you have this rallying cry dialled in, it becomes so much easier to communicate your vision of a better future and help the wider team understand how they can contribute to the new strategy.

"In your first 90 days don’t promise any answers. Promise to listen; promise to summarise and feed back what you learn; promise to use the time to come up with a considered plan that you can then be held to."

- Thoughts on new leader 30-60-90 day plans from Ashley Friedlein, CEO & Founder, Guild

New Leader 30-60-90 Plan for Executives: Days 31-60

MAKE YOUR MOVE

The second month of your new leader 30-60-90 day plan for executives is when you will start to make some major moves, in terms of people and projects.

Q15. What’s one simple, inexpensive thing we could do?

As you explore the business, keep a list of potential quick wins by asking as many people as possible this question. You can then filter and prioritise.

Bradt et al (1) give these helpful filters for quick wins:

  • They will make a meaningful external impact.
  • Your boss will want to talk about them.
  • You’re sure you can deliver them.
  • They will model important behaviours.
  • They would not have happened if you had not been there.
  • You can establish them by day 60 and deliver by your sixth month:

You’ll need to judge how many you can truly deliver “quickly”. Better to deliver a few projects quickly and well, than overpromise and underdeliver. Allocate enough resources, give the team responsible a clear charter, and celebrate and communicate on early successes (champion the champions!).

Q16. What’s holding back execution?

Now’s also a good time to understand the bigger systemic issues that are holding your teams back. These might include:

  • Organisational inefficiencies in decision-making
  • Unclear roles and responsibilities
  • Broken linkages across groups,
  • Inadequate information flows
  • Tensions in collaboration

You will need to start to determine which are annoyances and which are real roadblocks.

Q17. Who’s my trusted team?

You will need to have your leadership team pretty much in place by day 60.

Sometimes you need to move faster, though there is a risk that you’ll make poor decisions and come across as too impulsive. But moving too slow is a greater risk.

After 100 days, the team will be seen as ‘your team’. The problem leaders become your responsibility now, and are no longer the legacy of your predecessor. And the high performers will be frustrated if low performance is still being tolerated or ignored.

"At first, meet as many people as possible, at any level. You need to understand how the business works, not just the C-Suite. Then look, feel, test and iterate. You're here to try new things, and not to change everything. Finally, find who are the best people you want to work with, and take your responsibilities: change what you want to change."

- Thoughts on new leader 100 day plans from Matthieu Stefani (CEO, CosaVostra)

New Leader 30-60-90 Day Plan for Executives: Days 60-90

KEEP IT UP.

The third month of your new leader 30-60-90 day plan for executives is a mixture of execution and preparation for the longer term.

Q18. Am I communicating clearly & consistently?

A consistent cadence of communication to all stakeholders - up, down and across - is something leaders struggle with on a regular basis.

After the initial flurry of activity, good intentions can fade away around the 61-90 day period.

Instead, work with your leadership team to make sure that everyone - from your board of directors to the front line - is receiving consistent, clear and concise communication.

One of my Founder/CEO clients, Mike, was surprised to find out during a workshop that his management team really weren't clear on his strategic priorities. He believed he’d communicated incredibly carefully - but the reality was was very different. It was an ‘aha moment’ for him and made a big difference to how the team pulled together.

Q19. What ongoing rhythms do we need to install?

At around the 61-90 day period, it’s good to give some thought into the ongoing governance that will continue to drive your change initiatives forward.

  • How are you going to ensure cross-team alignment?
  • Solve strategic issues?
  • Identify and resolve obstacles on strategic projects?
  • Periodically refine the organisational strategy?

Our experience is that separate meeting formats are needed for each of these aspects. A single general ‘management meeting’ is a recipe for the typical “meeting muddle” of updates, discussions, debate - but not a lot of strategic decision-making and bold moves forward.

"Prove it! Companies are living, breathing organisms, and when the environment changes there’s inevitably disruption. As leaders, introducing change is part of the job description as we evolve any business. Yet change for change sake without it being thoughtful and stress-tested will likely set the business back, versus catapult it forward. Be able to clearly articulate what change is required, for what purpose, with what expected measurable outcome…and work to prove it.

While boldly attempted by many, building a CEO platform of trust just doesn’t happen in 90 days. Instead focus on building the foundation. Trust is earned through transparency (what’s going well and not so well at the moment), care for your people (a true partnership in their development and involvement), and doing what you say you’re going to do."

- Thoughts on new leader 30-60-90 day plans from top CEO Phil Saunders (President & CEO, SABA Software)

FREE EMAIL COURSE

NAILING YOUR NEW LEADERSHIP ROLE

Discover our 8-lesson course to maximise your impact in your new leadership role.

You won't find low-level management tips. You will find key mental shifts, insights and new ways of thinking to stretch you and help you step up to a new level.

Simply download the 18 question checklist using the button below and then we'll add you to this free course within 48 hours.

Summary: keep these 19 questions to hand as you build and execute your 30-60-90 day plan

These 19 questions to underpin your 30-60-90 day plan as an executive represent a powerful checklist to keep you thinking about all the bases in what’s likely to be a very busy period as a new executive.

If you’d like to download the questions as a simple ‘one page cheat sheet’, then you can do using one of the big red buttons throughout the article.

Finally, I specialise in helping ambitious, competent leaders dramatically grow their impact and influence and achieve more than they could imagine. And if you’re starting a new role, that’s a perfect time to reinvent yourself and play a bigger game.

If you’d be interested in rolling up your sleeves and mapping out what the top 1-2 game-changing moves will be for you in your new role, feel free to get in touch.

Resources:

(1) The New Leader’s 100 Day Action Plan; 2011; by George B. Bradt, Jayme A. Check, Jorge E. Pedraza; Wiley.

(2) Assuming Leadership: The first 100 days; 2003; Patrick Ducasse, Tom Lutz; Boston Consulting Group.

Successfully transitioning to new leadership roles; McKinsey & Co; 2018

You may also like...

40 surprising executive effectiveness tips from world-class experts

The leadership power of ‘getting out of your head’

Leading calmly in the midst of chaos

S9E09: 35 years as CEO … and the next chapter, with Adrian Weiler (Chair, Smart Freight Centre)

S9E08: Practicing leadership as a craft, with Joshua Lachs (CEO, Moneythink)

S8E20: Leading a turnaround and sale in 20 months, with Enrique Sacau (CEO, Kneip)

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