Framework for Early Wins

By the end of your first 90 days, those who hired you, those who work beside you, and those that work for you want more than a sense of satisfaction, they want to know this change (you) is going to be a success.  From the day you begin, you’re being accessed and opinions, right or wrong, are being formed. If you’re not making progress, the tigers will start circling.   

  • People are asking:
    Do you share their values?
  • Do you strive for results in yourself and others?
  • Are you able to peer around corners and make tough decisions, any decisions?

An early win goes a long way in building street creds, relationships and momentum.  When I look back, I know I’ve secured huge early wins, but being very Canadian and therefore humble, the success was simply compartmentalized as “just doing my job maam”.   I recognize now that those could have been a leveraged.  

Strive to identify potential early wins during your learning phase.   Ensure you, your new org, and importantly, your new boss are on the same page when identifying wins.  Focus on two or three potential early win candidates so you don’t spread yourself too thin during these early days.  Your first win also needs predefined defined measurable success criteria and short-term milestone successes.  While wins likely cannot run in parallel, they can however run in out-of-phase waves.  Each wave consists of the following phases:  

  • Learning
  • Designing the Change
  • Rallying support
  • Implementation
  • Learning from change

Show me the money

The best wins involve saved money, time or resources (in that order) in other words, tangible improvements.  Ambitious (e.g.) fundamental changes in strategy, structure, processes or skill sets, should be avoided like the plague as this will result in the organization’s self-defense mechanisms kicking-in as discussed in an earlier blog.    

Your priorities

Your priorities should balance the learned needs of the company and your personal ambitions and career objectives.  The company’s needs may be spelled out to you upon joining, or you’ll discover problems that demand attention.  Don’t let your priority be too broad or too focused.  Can you identify a promising focal point?

Behavioral Changes

During your assimilation into the new org, you’re picking up the subtle and not-so-subtle behavioral traits of the people.  You’ll need to decide if these behaviors are a benefit to creating or sustaining a high-performance team or not.  What I’ve learned is to systematically look for these characteristics in people:  

Focus Do they have priorities or too many priorities? Having too many priorities is demoralizing as they know they can’t all be achieved.
Discipline Do they attain a consistent level of performance?
Innovation Are improvements consistently sought after? Are we pushing the envelope?
Teamwork Is the team playing nice together? Are people hording knowledge? Are individuals more apt to recognize group achievements over self?
Sense of Urgency Are customer needs being ignored in favor maintaining the safe status quo?

Ideally during your first win, you should instill new methods of behaviours in the org (if such are warranted).  

Tick, tick, tick… 

You are the best candidate to identify ticking time bombs as your learning plan is comparable to being a detective, something unique to the company.  Different parts of the org will have different parts of the ticking time bomb puzzle and you may be the only one equipped to assemble the pieces.  It’s happened to me.  Simply by identifying a time bomb may equate to an early win.  If you fail to act on them however, your mode-of-engagement may shift to 100% fire fighting.   

Where could problems lay?

Where can you find problems that could become a source of early wins?  Here are a few examples:  

Likely source Internal politics, meaning departments are not communicating effectively creating the perfect conditions for problems. Fortunately for you, you have no political baggage and therefore are unbiased.
Probable source Internal capabilities or lack thereof. For example, problems or gaps with skill sets, processes or product quality issues. Another probable source is dissatisfied customers?
Potential source Changing market conditions, new competitors or a failing strategy? Regarding competition, is your product overpriced, inferior, or is a competitive product on the horizon?
Unlikely source New government regulations, economic conditions, health and safety aspects of your product.


When / if you find a mine floating in the business’s path, you must take action:

  1. Generate awareness and conversation of the problem.  “Did you know a mine lays in the direct path of HMS Business?”
  2. Figure it out.  Tactically “what should we do avoid that mine?”
  3. Big picture.  Strategically “what should we do to avoid mines in the future?”
  4. Plan. “Have the army corps of engineers devise a detailed plan around the mine” (The analogy is weak, but run with it anyway).
  5. Support.  “Everyone aboard the HMS Business needs to support the plan”  

It goes without saying to avoid early losses.  It is exceedingly difficult to recover from an early loss (i.e. read between the lines).
Lastly, remember that companies and people can only absorb so much change at once. Also, the change you implement needs to set the stage for future change.

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