99 days and counting

Thinking about joining a new start-up this year? A friend of mine recently contacted me for some assistance. She’d been promoted to the top of her company and would be President and CEO in a couple of weeks. “Do you have any advice?”

“You bet! You’ll need to build that 99 Day Plan for your first quarter on the job. It’s one of the most valuable thingsĀ  you can do to maximize the start of your new role.” 99-Day Plans are based on the theory that, in the first ninety-nine days of a new assignment, an individual will be consuming more value from the organization then they are able to contribute. My two favourite books on the topic “The First 90 Days” (Watkins) and “You’re in Charge, Now What?” (Neff & Citrin). Some of the key principals follow.

Turnarounds, start-ups and new promotions all pose a unique opportunity for leaders to come “out of the gate” in full stride. Although all three situations require different skills and approaches, the underlying theme is still the same. There are four fundamental phases of building and executing the 99-day plan. In support of my energy and smart-grid clients I have affectionately named them:

  1. Inspection
  2. Pre-Wiring
  3. Lights On
  4. Charging Forward


In this phase you are in an early due diligence state. You may be contemplating a new start-up venture, have your name in for a promotion or are trying to figure out how to accelerate or turn around an existing business. Your objectives in this phase are to spend a couple of days utilizing the information that you have at hand to determine your interest level in jumping into the assignment. You will utilize “generally available” materials (websites, public information, local knowledge) to help formulate your interest and determine your ability to deliver the results. You may or may not have access to the key stakeholders (shareholders, employees, senior management) at this point in the process. This phase may consume up to nine days, turning a 90-Day Plan into a 99-Day Plan.


You have now determined that more detailed visibility is required on the opportunity. Objectives in this phase include determining the critical priorities, risks and opportunities and a complete alignment of all stakeholder interests. For an individual being recruited for a job, your visibility will come through the interview process and access to the key stakeholders in the process. It is during this phase that you will formulate your ideas on what needs to get done, negotiate your start day and draft a 90-day plan with specific deliverables every 30 days. Specific emphasis should be put on identifying the “low hanging fruit” – areas where your individual skills and talents can add early value to an organization. This may include changes to process, people and customer interaction. I also endorse drafting a multi-point objective statement that addresses the phrase: “By the end of 90 days I would expect that…”

Lights On

This starts the first day of your new assignment. You should ensure that you have specific action plans for what you plan on saying to and doing with the senior leadership team, the employees, customers, shareholders and other stakeholders. I suggest maintaining a journal of all key interactions, observations and things that were positively or negatively surprising. At the end of each week you should tune your plan to reflect the things that you have discovered. Early feedback mechanisms for stakeholder communication should also be critical components of your 99-Day Plan.

Charging Forward

This is the key execution phase of the plan. Utilizing your journal, reflect on your daily and weekly notes. Ensure that you are executing on key interactions with employees, customers, shareholder and key influencers. Be prepared to dynamically modify your plan to reflect any surprises that you have uncovered along the way. I also endorse creating a rolling 90-day plan that reflects the execution road map and supports the last phase of the plan which I call “Burning Efficiently Bright.”

For my newly minted CEO I also added a couple other items of wisdom to help support her process. These include:

  1. Mental State of Mind: From Pre-Wiring to Lights On you will need to mentally prepare for the new assignment. You are the new boss and the individual charged to fix the past sins: get on with it.
  2. The Cows Have Left the Barn: From the Lights On phase, you are in charge. The key stakeholders will be looking to you for answers, opinion and direction: anticipate the questions.
  3. Plans are “Merely” Forecasts: Change is the only guaranteed constant. Build the plan, execute the plan, but be prepared to modify the plan as necessary.
  4. Listen Lots/Communicate Often: In your early days on the job you will be given access to individuals and situations that may not have been available in your Inspection and Pre-Wiring states. Listen, question and probe.
  5. Emotional Fortitude: Regardless of your perspective (start-up, turn-around, new position), your plan will involve a series of changes to people and process. Do the necessary homework and remember why you took the job in the first place. Dig deep and do the right things in a timely manner.

At what stage are you in your new assignment cycle? Time to start the clock -TIC TOC – 99 days will fly by quickly.