BLUF: When one is hired to make changes in the first 90 days, how does one tactfully accomplish that?


Understanding that the "first rule" of business is to refrain from making changes or implementing new processes for the first 90 days, I was hired to do just that: make changes ASAP.

I'm in Day 3 of my new job at an entirely new company in an entirely new state (nope, no more Denver) and I report directly to the President (and also receive guidance from her husband, the CEO.) This is a small-ish privately held company. The business was started by the President 22 years ago. There are approximately a total of 40 employees (including myself.)

As such, throughout the growth of the business, the President has been able to maintain direct control over 90% of the business operations, fielding ALL of the day-to-day, front-line inquiries, client inquiries, process improvement projects, all of it. As one might imagine, with the growth they've experienced (they've hired three of us in the past month and are looking to double in size (client-base/revenue) over the next five years), the hands-on approach the President had for years has become unmanageable. There's just not enough of her to go around.

I've been told directly (though not in these specific words) that I need to serve as the gate-keeper, filter, funnel, to field about 80% of the day-to-day crud that has historically gone directly to the President (and founder) of the company. As a smaller company (read: less structured, not quite corporate, externally professional but not as much as one might expect internally), the expectation is that there will be demonstrable improvements sooner rather than later.

This isn't a giant corporation where it will take two years to develop a project, map out the scope, have committee and sub-committee meetings, have multiple presentations and guest speakers, etc. before forward progress begins.

Similarly, I would not want to start making changes on Day 3 when I know nothing about the systems, processes or procedures in place!

That said, there are some basic changes that I am expected to implement as soon as possible:

- reroute production issues to me (rather than the President),

- make 80% of the calls on client relationship management issues (funneling the other 20% over to the Director of Client Services),

- begin shaping / coaching / providing more structure for the Enrollment Manager to best utilize her team

- develop the functional department heads into stronger individuals prepared for the impending growth without sacrificing current progress.

As it is, during the interview / site visit process before the position was officially offered to me, I had met with those department heads and introduced my M.O. which includes O3's, their function and all of that. We met yesterday and will begin O3's next week.

*I* feel like I am moving at an appropriate though fast pace. I'm getting the sense from the CEO that he'd prefer a magic wand to be waved and all the annoyances that plagued him last week (the day to day stuff) would have ceased by now, Day 3. Meanwhile, the President has been so busy that I haven't seen her since 9am two days ago and she's travelling all of next week. Given the processes she created and instilled on the floor, I'm getting the sense that she has a very different vision to a certain extent. (She seems to like things to follow a very specific order, direction, planned out and so forth whereas he tends to be more conceptual and driven by the end result rather than how or how long it takes to get there.)

I want to be able to do all those things - make improvements, develop the people, streamline processes (down the road), serve as the funnel, take ownership of 80% of the daily grind - while still holding true to the President's vision of how it all gets done. I also don't want to be "that psycho who wanted to change everything the first week" even though that seems to be what the CEO wants.

Words of wisdom or advice appreciated.

mattpalmer's picture

You've got a really tough row to hoe.  The thing that gives me the most alarm is the difference in vision between the President and CEO, which is never a good sign, but when they happen to be married to each other... holy cow.  If there's a more fraught situation, I don't want to know what it is.

The key to making this work is to communicate like crazy.  Sure, jump in and start bailing, but tell everyone what's happening.  Be especially careful to let both the CEO and President know what you're doing, why you're doing it, and what you are (and aren't) capable of at any given moment.  If you can manage their expectations and ensure they know what's doable and what isn't, you've got a chance of lasting long enough to make some improvements.

I wish you the best of luck.  Frankly, I wouldn't want to be in your shoes.  Family businesses give me the willies.



nowork2014's picture

You can not just change things in a business setting you need to observe it for a long preiod and then make some suggestion if there is something to be change. - Steven C Wyer

uwavegeek's picture
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One resource that may help you navigate these waters is John Kotter's 'Leading Change' which goes through the ten necessary steps and the associated sociology/psychology behind changing an organization as well as the pitfalls of what happens when you skip steps etc.  He has other relevant works as well.


Also, it sounds a bit like a turnaround situation (urgent, short deadlines, big changes etc.) so you may well consider researching that area as well.


All the best,




aylim14's picture

 By one-on-one's i meant all types: original direct version, boss one-on-one's and peer one-on-one's. 

I'm also new to my job. In my 3rd month now. I was hired to install processes as well and manage a group of 4 people. The only change i did in my first 90 days was my own weekly staff (there was none before), direct O3s and placing deadlines on tasks. Apart from that, nothing else that would affect my team. Sure there were others like simplifying a report and reconciliation process but that was one of my main functions. 

Just like what Matt said, communicate like crazy. To your directs, boss and peers. I'm a high D-C, but it's like i'm a high I-S because i keep making small talks, asking about people, etc. 

oh, and i's recommend listening tj the Internal Customers podcast. I'm in the process of rolling it out (was a bit late) but it greatly builds up credibility and exposure to the right people in the right way. 

DRD282's picture
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My first thought matches Matt's - communicate, overcommunicate, and then communicate some more. Also be sure to set expectations. A great way to do that is to have specific, measurable milestones and deliverables and then give them dates that you will deliver and/or update. It sounds like the boss is most likely a high D (wants things done like 5 minutes ago, without really considering the nuances that a High S or C might get caught up on). As someone who's worked for that kind of High D, here are a few things I've learned:

- Set and communicated deadlines. Otherwise you will be asked for constant status updates and your boss will feel like "nothing is getting done and it's been forever!"

- If you aren't going to make a deadline, communicate that as soon as you are aware of it. Explain the blocker/delay and how you are going to overcome it.

- In general, 90% of the time when you go to your boss with a problem, have 1-3 proposed solutions. It keeps you focused on results and makes that focus transparent to your boss.

- Some slippage is okay. Things don't have to be perfect for a High D, they need to be done and done fast. You may have to lower your bar a bit, knowing that you can tweak the process as you go along. 

- Finally, and this is a personal one that you really really need to use your own judgement on, is that High D's in general are more accepting when someone pushes back on specifics, so long as the big picture gets done (see previous point). For my boss, I have learned that if he says "have these 4 things done by next Tuesday" that I can say "I can get you 3 by Wednesday instead and 1 by Friday, is that okay?" and he is okay with that because when I make a commitment like that *I have proven* in the past that I can be relied on to get done what. If he pushes that he needs it by his deadline, then obviously I will do what I have to to get it done, but I typically say something like "I will do my best to get that to you by then, although it may not be perfect" and then I do exactly that.


Hopefully some of these help. Remember, though, to tread carefully and use your judgement. I have an extremely good relationship with my boss built on a few years of trust and working together, and so I can push a bit back a bit harder than I would had I only been here a few weeks. That said, I think points 1-3 are applicable in many situations.















RetiredYoung's picture

Not sure if it has been mentioned, but writing up how the new process will work sounds like a very critical task here that will help you HAVE IN WRITING what exactly is expected of you. I would begin immediately if you haven't already. The processes would be written on your end, and reviewed at some point, so that you have something in writing which explicitly lays out what the shared expectation is.

Anyone not think this is a good idea? 

attackdonkey's picture

I don't don't know what sort of company you got hired into, but perhaps rolling out the one on ones and the trinity plan a bit early might satisfy their desire for change. I Would consider that first.