New-season in my life started back in November of 2019. My family and I were hired by a church in Kentucky, Community Family Church. We were very excited to start the new adventure and wanted to start strong but not just pull out our bag of tricks. I turned to a great book titled The First 90 Days – Success Strategies for New Leader by Harvard professor Michael Watkins. When I had first read this book back in the day, it helped me in effectively starting my new ministry position which Kept me out of trouble.
The First 90 Days can be broken down into 5 main topics;
- Get yourself focused
- Learn your new role faster
- Choose the best strategy
- Make good things happen right away
- Build a winning team
I just knew this would be a good idea to break this book out of my library again and brush up on some of the key concepts. I first read this book several years before I started a new ministry. It served me well and helped me define my road-map for the first 90 days of my new role. To build the momentum that I needed and help me get my ducks in a row to provide a clear path to grow the ministry. I figured it would do the same again this time while helping me to stay away from just pulling that bag of tricks out which I see so many pastors do.
Below I will do my best to summarize the main points of the book. It is good to keep in mind this is a business book and not specifically a ministry book, but as I have said, it is easy to convert the principles in this book to ministry. There is another book that has come out that I now own as well that is directed toward ministry and I think takes inspiration from this book titled: Every pastor first 180 days by Charles Stone.
- Mentally prepare yourself for your new role.
- Put the past behind you. What worked before won’t necessarily serve you well now. Don’t ignore what you don’t know.
- Along those same lines; Establish a clear breakpoint. Celebrate the transition and then be done. Do whatever it takes to forget your old role and focus on the new.
- Hit the ground running. At the 90 day mark, your boss, your peers, your direct reports expect you to be making an impact.
- Look at your vulnerabilities. Identify your “problem preferences”. That is; the problem you prefer to work on. Make a point not to neglect the activities you do not enjoy or activities that do not come naturally.
Accelerate Your Learning
- Define your learning agenda. What do you need to learn 1st, 2nd, 3rd?
- Adopt a structured learning method. This is a favorite of mine! This step has served me quite well in the past.
- Meet with your new boss and direct reports and ask the following questions;
- What are the biggest challenges the organization (or team) is facing (or will face) in the near future?
- Why is the organization (or team) facing (or going to face) these challenges?
- What are the most promising unexploited opportunities for growth?
- What would need to happen or the organization (or team) to exploit the potential of these opportunities?
- If you were me, what would you focus on?
Match your Strategy to the Situation
- Be sure to correctly diagnose the situation
- Start-up. Is this a new team (or ministry)?
- Turnaround. Are the groups in trouble and you need to get things back on track?
- Realignment. Do you need to revitalize the project, team or processes?
- Sustaining Success. Is this a well-oiled machine that you simply need to keep moving in the right direction?
- Understand History. What got the team, ministry, church to the current state. Seek to understand history.
- Focus your energy. Ask yourself;
- How much emphasis will I place on learning versus doing?
- How much emphasis will I place on offense versus defense?
- What should I do to get some early wins?
Make good things happen right away
- It is crucial to get some early wins. You want to make sure your boss, peers, and subordinates all feel that something new and good is happening.
- Here are some of the most common mistakes that will prevent something new and good from happening;
- Failing to focus. It’s easy to take on too much during a transition. The results can be disastrous.
- Not taking the business situation into account. The definition of an early win will differ greatly based on the situation you are in.
- Not adjusting to the corporate culture. If you are an outsider, make understanding the culture a high priority. I will blog on this for sure at a later time.
- Failing to get wins that matter to your boss. Be it right, wrong or indifferent, if it’s not important to your boss, it’s not important.
- Letting your means undermine your ends. Avoid being perceived as manipulative, underhanded or going against corporate culture.
- Establish long term goals
- Be consistent with organizational priorities.
- Introduce the new patterns of behavior you want to install in the organization (or team).
- Build your credibility. Your earliest actions with your new team will have a huge influence on how you are perceived.
- Negotiate success (Part I). Engage with your new boss to establish realistic expectations. Here are a few things to avoid when engaging with your new boss;
- Don’t trash the past. Nothing can be gained from criticizing your predecessors.
- Don’t stay away. If your boss doesn’t reach out to you, reach out to him or her.
- Don’t surprise your boss. Even bad news is OK as long as it is not a surprise.
- Don’t approach your boss only with problems. Be sure to understand the problem and identify what you’ll (realistically) need before approaching your boss.
- Don’t run down your checklist. It’s rare that your boss wants to hear every little thing you are working on.
- Don’t try to change your boss. Adapt to his/her style rather than the other way around.
- Negotiate success (Part II). Engage with your new boss to establish realistic expectations. Here are a few things you should do when engaging with your new boss;
- Take 100% responsibility for making the relationship work.
- Clarify mutual expectations early and often.
- Negotiate timelines for diagnosis and actions.
- Aim for early wins in areas that are important to your boss.
- Try to get “good grades” from those whose opinions your boss respects.
- Achieve Alignment. You want to make sure your organization or team is all marching in the same direction. Try to avoid some of the common mistakes;
- Resist changing any structure until you understand whether the restructuring will address the root cause of any problems.
- Creating structures that are too complex. Don’t over-engineer things.
- Automate problem processes. If the process is flawed, fix the process first. Don’t be tempted to automate a flawed process.
- Make changes for change’s sake.
- Overestimate your team’s capacity to absorb change. Focus on a few vital priorities and make changes gradually if time permits.
Build your team
- A high performing team can create tremendous value. Avoid the following common mistakes when creating your organizational plans;
- Some leaders clean house too quickly, but it’s more common to keep people on-board too long.
- Not repairing the airplane. Molding a team is like repairing a plane in mid-flight. You will not reach your destination if you ignore the necessary repairs.
- Not holding on to good people.
- Starting team-building before the core team is in place.
- Trying to do it all yourself.
- Assess your existing team. During your first 30-60 days, assess who is who, who are the high performers, who are the sub-par performers. Don’t suppress these early impressions, but take a step back from them and take the time to make a more vigorous evaluation.
- If your success depends on the support of people outside your direct line of command, it’s important to create coalitions to get things done.
- I will be blogging on most of this in more detail as I walk you through how I fleshed out each of these items.
- When starting a new ministry or job, what steps from above are your strengths? Weaknesses? Which ones would you add to this?