The death of the 90-day plan?
By Alex Alleyne
30 is the new 90
On the 14th May 2013, Michael Watkins published his best selling book ‘The First 90 Days’. With over 8,000 Amazon reviews and millions of copies sold, this book set the stage for what it takes to successfully step into a new leadership role.
But, that was 10-years ago. Since then, the world of VC and SaaS has advanced at a breakneck pace. As pivotal as this book has been for the tech industry, I’m not convinced it has a place in the 2023 SaaS narrative.
We’ve entered the era of agile decision making. And, in my experience, 30 days is the new 90 – and if you’re waiting a whole quarter to take action, you’re missing a big opportunity.
Let’s unpack how to drive an impactful first 30-days in your new role.
1-10 days: Ingestion
The first phase is all about data ingestion and processing, not passive observation.
During this time you need to absorb as much information as you can from reliable and relevant sources that have a direct affinity with your role. In real terms, this means having meetings with all and any key stakeholders, your team themselves and any supporting functions that will have an impact on your day to day.
You want to equally listen and learn from customers, seek to understand the problems your company solves for them, and where they derive the most value.
Lastly, you want to understand as much as possible about the company, where they are excelling and where their major deficiencies are.
In short, you are ingesting a ton of information, processing and distilling it to then enable you to take informed action.
A trap to avoid: Analysis paralysis.
Be mindful about collecting data from too many sources. When you need mentorship on a topic, it adds no value to seek out 20 mentors with 20 different viewpoints. You want to find the most relevant people to what you are seeking to achieve and triple down on their advice. Stay focused on the people and data sources that are most relevant to your role and what you are here to achieve.
10-20 days: Action
At this point you should feel empowered to make some data driven decisions based on the information you have collated during the ingestion phase.
Status quo is your enemy. The traditional school of thought is to sit in an observational phase for the first circa 30 days before you even contemplate making a micro-decision.
You need to trust your judgement and the premise that you have been brought here for a reason, namely to raise the bar.
I’ve been in this scenario first hand. Actively ingested during the first 10 days and started making notable changes shortly thereafter. I didn’t win any popularity contests at the time, but in the weeks and months that followed, the best in class results spoke for themselves.
If you are taking on a turnaround job, you should feel empowered to make more notable decisions. If you are in a build job, you are likely making a series of micro-decisions.
A trap to avoid: Playing it safe. There is pressure to keep the ship steady, vs driving it forward. There is an old adage in SaaS Sales, “You don’t get fired when you buy Oracle.” But there’s subtext: you might not get promoted, either. Bear in mind that operating in the status quo doesn’t drive transformative change or expedite your career. No risk, no reward.
20-30 days: Refinement
During this phase, look back and reflect on both the information you’ve ingested and the decisions you’ve made to reflect, measure and refine.
You’ll likely observe two primary responses to any decisions you’ve made:
Emotive: ie “I don’t like the decisions that Alex has made, this change doesn’t feel right”.
Analytical: ie “Alex has brought in this initiative and it doesn’t correlate with helping us to move further and faster”.
To give you an example, I worked at an organisation where I introduced the concept of Pipeline Generation Mondays. This required all sellers to focus on their outbound activity every Monday when they weren’t used to it.
The initial emotive response was negative with notable push back. But, the week after the rollout, PG performance grew by over 100%. This meant logic and data overruled emotion and the team eventually bought into the programme.
On the flip side, I also introduced two weekly meetings, one on a Monday afternoon to review the PG activity and a second one on a Friday afternoon. The emotional response to this was neutral, but logically, we found that it was a time drain on the team and didn’t add notable value.
Without ego, it was important for me to understand that and make an adjustment to remove one of the two sessions per week, to clear that time blocker for the team. If I had waited another 30 days to make that change, I may have lost buy-in from the team. Making micro adjustments, even if it diverts from your original decision, builds trust and demonstrates agility.
A trap to avoid: “Shiny objects.” Your decisions will inevitably open up new challenges and chasms as you learn more. You need to course correct the big pillars before tackling new side quests. Just because there is a new item on the pile doesn’t mean it’s the most important or urgent.
It’s a journey, not a destination
You may be thinking that 30-days simply isn’t enough time to understand and make informed decisions.
In certain sectors, you may be right. With that said, it’s critical to understand that ingesting information, making data driven decisions then iterating over time is continual.
This is a process that you should be rinsing and repeating month on month, like a continual A/B testing cycle. As Bezos notes, 70% of decisions are reversible. Even if you miss the mark, “you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through.”
Whether you’re starting a new role, or want to transform your existing team, you need to build comfort in taking in new information and consistently leveraging it to move your company forward.
Use this week as an opportunity to map out your own 30-day plan and let me know how you plan to approach the first 10-days.