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The first 90 days in that coveted new job: How to hit the ground running

03 November 2017 - By Emma Potts

It is hard to overstate the importance of starting well: the opening words of a speech, the early lines of a novel, the first few bars of a song. As an audience, a strong start gets our buy in. Get it wrong at the beginning though and you’ll struggle to win us back. Our goodwill is limited if things don’t offer promise.

Fortunately, if you have secured a new strategic role as a senior-level lateral hire, you’ve got longer than 30 seconds to make your mark. But you haven’t got forever. Time is money and there will be a finite period by which you will want to have to have made measurable progress.

In The First 90 Days (Harvard Business School Press, 2013), Michael Watkins suggests a career transition period of 90 days, as being the time in which your compass will be set towards success or failure. It isn’t simply about surviving – those first three months can ultimately determine just how far you can go in terms of your opportunities to influence and to progress. And 90 days will pass quickly.

Successful transitions are complex and require careful attention. This brief article highlights some key areas it will help to focus on during those critical early days.

Understand your purpose: What is your new scenario and what does your new law firm/in-house employer want you to achieve? It sounds obvious but it is crucially important. At best, the lack of an agreed plan between employer and employee will reduce momentum; at worst it will lead to failure.

For example – are you establishing a new function, building on the success of an existing one, or reinvigorating an underachieving department? Your approach and focus will be different for each.

Plan to learn: You don’t have to provide all the answers on day one; in fact it will be detrimental to try. First you’ll need to evaluate the organisation you have joined: How has it arrived at its current position? You’ll also need to understand internal culture and politics in order to be effective and avoid early mistakes. Work out what you need to learn and the most time-effective way to gather this knowledge.

Identify and target the low hanging fruit: Early wins build personal credibility and momentum. Make sure the wins you target are also important to your leadership team. Work to understand their expectations in terms of your delivery.

Develop your internal coalition: Not just in terms of fellow lawyers but also colleagues across other support functions or business divisions. At some stage you will need their skills. Establishing good relationships before you need their input will be advantageous.

Understanding the dynamics of who influences who and on what will be invaluable when advancing future initiatives. Identify which people internally are likely to support or oppose you and those who can be persuaded. Thereafter, devise strategies to deal with the relevant groups.

Keep your discipline: Be strict about planning. At the end of each day and week assess where you are in relation to your objectives and plan ahead. This will bring a sense of order at a time of flux. It will also give you opportunities to adjust your priorities as needed.

Invest in yourself: You will be devoting extra energy to work in these early months. You also need to find time to relax and refresh to be your most effective. A good start is key but career success is a marathon not a sprint.


Emma Potts epotts@chancerylegal.co.uk is the founder of UK-based specialist legal headhunting consultancy, Chancery Legal.

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Last updated on the 3rd November 2017