The First 90 Days

The First 90 DaysOne of the favorite books is called The First 90 Days written by Michael Watkins. This book offers some excellent tips on how to start in a new role and how to analyze the challenge ahead for any leader taking over an organization. I have studied Watkins’ tips and recommendations carefully and I review my notes every time I start a new assignment. I also have been able to apply them quickly at every company I worked for as most of them needed an “innovation turn-around” to “wake up” the organization, to remove all organizational roadblocks, and to face tough economic market conditions.

1)      My first action is to “take over” the championing of the innovation process in organizations. I become an immediate advocate and evangelist for innovation as a top priority for the future of the organization.

2)      Championing does not mean involvement. It means sense-of-urgency, conviction, drive, passion, interest and acting as a trouble shooter. The top leader becomes the innovation cheerleader. He or she does not delegate the championing role to someone else. He or she invests in time, sweat equity and reputation to make sure the organization takes the message seriously.

3)      A more radical change I have had to do implement is to quickly change the organizational design for innovation and to become a de-facto Chief Innovation Officer. In these cases, I modified reporting lines and took over direct responsibilities for the R&D and innovation functions. Once this is done, I immediately created an Innovation Council to bring teams together and set the priorities as a team.

4)      Speaking of priorities, another immediate action is to launch a major in-depth review of all innovation and R&D projects and to evaluate their feasibility and business impact. One of the objectives of this action is to re-prioritize the project portfolio, to kill “pet projects”, and to re-prioritize the project portfolio based on a revised effort/benefit analysis as well as a new attractiveness/risk threshold.

5)      The need for acceleration of the innovation process is always a need. Time to market is always the biggest internal complaints heard by business managers and the sales force. In a couple of organizations, I was able to streamline the project portfolio, to free up resources to support short term projects as well as to design a rapid new product development process (RNPD or Rapid Stage-Gate) for level 2 innovations (new version of an existing technology) or level 3 innovations (cross-selling or modification of existing products). In both cases, the innovation process was shortened to 3 months for these level 2 and level 3 innovation categories.

6)      The impulsion created by these actions in the first 90 days act as a boost of focus, of energy and as a signal given to the market that the organization is serious about innovating. This impulsion becomes a call for action for all parties involved. It creates a high level of buy-in because it unleashes the force of people’s innovative potential.

When organizations face economical uncertainty and economic slowdown, they have a tendency to hunker down and retrench. I embrace the opposite philosophy. When times are tough, it is time to unleash the innovation power of the organization and to create a lasting legacy in the market. Customers will be grateful for the increased innovation rate and the increased level of excitement due to new initiatives, products, services, processes. My view is that the best defense is a calculated innovation offense. It requires boldness, drive and courage. The result is priceless.

image credit: Harvard Business Review Press

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Game-Changing Discoveries and Willingness-to-PayStephan Liozu, PhD is the Founder of Value Innoruption Advisors and specializes in disruptive approaches in innovation and value management. He holds a PhD in Management at Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at

Stephan Liozu




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