The First 90 Days: A Quick-Start Guide for New Managers

The first 90 days are critical for any new manager. Whether you’ve been promoted internally and are now responsible for overseeing your former peers or have been brought in from outside and need to get up to speed on a new organization, it can be both an exciting and highly stressful time for new managers! You certainly don’t want to come out of the door guns blazing and risk upsetting existing staff, but you likely have countless ideas and projects swirling around your head that you now have the authority to make reality. As a manager and management educator for the past decade, here are the three initial steps I recommend a new manager take in the first 90 days to help set them up for success in their new role.

Learn the difference between being an individual contributor and being a manager

The first vital step for a new manager is learning the difference between being an individual contributor and being a manager. As an individual contributor, your performance was based on the work you produced. Your job was to accomplish tasks, and you needed to focus on the details and short-term plans. As a manager, your performance is based on your team’s work. While there likely are still day-to-day tasks on your plate, your ultimate job is to support staff and develop long-term plans. Your focus needs to shift to the future and big-picture ideas, like how your department plays into the overall work and goals of the organization as a whole.

This shift from individual to manager can be incredibly challenging! However, there are several actions you can take to help aid this transition. Start by identifying potential critical contacts that you may wish to remain in regular conversation with to stay abreast of the big picture. Are there meetings you may need to attend to have your team’s voice heard? What meeting minutes do you have access to to review? Does your organization have a strategic plan you can read? As you start developing goals and projects for your team, align them with one or more of the goals or initiatives outlined in that strategic plan.

Determine what conversations to have in the first 90 days

Another essential decision to make is what conversations you need to have in the first 90 days. One of the most important is with your own manager. Sit down and determine their expectations for you in this new role. Do they expect big changes, or are they happy with how things have been running? What are their goals? How often do they anticipate meeting you, and how will they be supporting you in your new role? Come prepared with any questions you may have.

In addition to meeting with your own boss, make it a priority to sit down with each of your new team members. Ask them about their strengths, areas they need support in, and goals they may have, both for their own role and their career as a whole. As the workers on the ground, they will likely have insight into how the department functions and potential areas of concern you will need to be aware of. Keep the conversation open and friendly, and encourage them to bring up anything they want to discuss or make you aware of. While this isn’t necessarily the time for problem-solving long-standing issues, these meetings are an important opportunity to build rapport and trust with your team as their new manager.

If you are an internal promotion, you may need to have a conversation about how your relationship will change now that you are responsible for overseeing their work. It’s essential to recognize that there is now a power disparity between you and your former peers. They may be less likely to bring concerns or provide honest feedback now that you have authority over them. In addition, your suggestions will likely be taken more seriously now that you are in a position of authority. It is critical to be mindful of this and ensure you’re speaking to everyone equally. Going out for drinks with colleagues after work may not be appropriate anymore if it means some employees have more access to you than others, or it creates the perception of favoritism. Ultimately, as a manager, you need to be highly intentional and mindful of the voices on your team and ensure everyone has the opportunity to speak at the same volume.

Set clear expectations with staff

Finally, a new manager must prioritize formulating an approach to setting clear expectations with staff. Simply put, employees can’t live up to expectations if they don’t know what they are. Develop a system of tracking goals and performance, with the understanding that it can be changed as time goes on if needed. Would regular one-on-one meetings with each staff member be beneficial? What about an agenda for each meeting sent out ahead of time so that staff can come prepared to provide updates on projects or goals? How will you ensure positive performance is recognized and address opportunities for improvement? All of these are important considerations as you begin to settle into your new position.

Finally, it’s important to remember that while you may provide an annual review to all your employees, nothing on that review should ever be a surprise. If an employee is performing poorly, you owe them a conversation to provide them with the opportunity to improve. In addition to avoiding a nasty shack at the end of the year due to poor work before then, this practice will also make your life easier, particularly if you document these discussions. Something as simple as an email recapping what you discussed, what you need to see change (ideally in a measurable way), and how you plan to support the employee can play a critical role if performance problems escalate and you need to pursue HR action or termination. It’s a hard choice, but you’ll ultimately rest easier with the knowledge that you provided your employee with all the support they needed to improve, regardless of whether or not they accept that support.

Ultimately, your first 90 days in a manager role will likely be both an exciting and overwhelming time. However, by examining how your role and relationships have changed, having critical conversations, and setting clear expectations, you will set yourself up for success! Best of luck in your new role.

For more support, I recommend these resources:

The Ask a Manager Blog at https://www.askamanager.org/

The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins

Managing to Change the World by Alison Green and Jerry Haus

Help! I’m a Manager by Sue Wilcock

The Perfect Phrases book series

Author

  • Julia Davis

    Julia Davis is an experienced information science professional with a strong passion for employee-focused leadership practices, accessibility, and procedural standardization. Her experience includes time spent in both academic and public libraries, as well as the legal, wellness, and insurance industries. She currently serves as the Information Systems Manager for Smith, Hulsey, and Busey, a full-service business law firm in Jacksonville FL. Julia holds a Master of Library and Information Science from Valdosta State University, a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership from Jacksonville University, and is a PhD candidate studying leadership at Anderson University. She has published several peer-reviewed articles in professional library journals and developed, as well as regularly instructs, the popular Fundamentals of Management course for the American Library Association’s Core Division. Originally from New England, Julia relocated to Jacksonville in 2017 and is a proud resident of the Avondale neighborhood. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and stepson, exploring the parks and local small businesses in their neighborhood.

(Visited 591 times, 4 visits today)

Julia Davis

Julia Davis is an experienced information science professional with a strong passion for employee-focused leadership practices, accessibility, and procedural standardization. Her experience includes time spent in both academic and public libraries, as well as the legal, wellness, and insurance industries. She currently serves as the Information Systems Manager for Smith, Hulsey, and Busey, a full-service business law firm in Jacksonville FL. Julia holds a Master of Library and Information Science from Valdosta State University, a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership from Jacksonville University, and is a PhD candidate studying leadership at Anderson University. She has published several peer-reviewed articles in professional library journals and developed, as well as regularly instructs, the popular Fundamentals of Management course for the American Library Association’s Core Division. Originally from New England, Julia relocated to Jacksonville in 2017 and is a proud resident of the Avondale neighborhood. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and stepson, exploring the parks and local small businesses in their neighborhood.

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