The Best 30-60-90 Day Plan and How to Use It

If you do a google search for “how to build a 30 60 90 day plan” you will get a bunch of misguided information and some random thoughts masquerading as best practices. Many of the so-called experts publishing this content are trying to sell products and services by dishing out click bait caliber advice that’s likely to do more harm than good for your career. Very few articles or tools out there were created by actual managers – the individuals who make the hiring decisions and evaluate your performance over the first 3 months on the job. In this blog I’m going to answer some of the most common questions I get about 30 60 90 day plans and also give you access to a 30 60 90 day plan template I built and use in my own career. If you find value in my plan template I'd love to hear about it in the comments section. 

NEW >> And, if you're a manager or executive, I've just added a special version of the template with a bunch of extra content designed for leaders. Download the manager's version here.

NEW >> If you're in sales, I've just created a special customized version of my 30 60 90 day plan template built specifically for sales. Download the sales version here.

NEW >> I just released my Manager's Job Search Bundle for those of you looking to land your dream job. It has my resume template, interview checklist and manager's 30 60 90 day plan template all in one. Download the manager's job search bundle here.

Here are the questions I get asked most about these plans:

When should I be building a 30 60 90 day plan?

There are two occasions when you would want to build a 30 60 90 day plan. The first is in the final stages of the interview process. When included as part of a strategic planning framework it can help you differentiate from other candidates by demonstrating your capacity to operationalize a strategy. I’m going to focus more on this specific use in a future blog. The second, and our focus for this blog, is the 30 60 90 day plan you will want to build in your first week at a new job. It shares many similarities with the one you’d build during the interview process with the small exception that you’ll create this version knowing you’ll actually have to deliver against it.

Key takeaways:

  1. You should build a 30 60 90 day plan in the late stages of the interview process

  2. You should deliver a 30 60 90 day plan before the end of your first week on a job

What is the objective of a 30 60 90 day plan?

This is where most of the advice on the Internet has it wrong. Most articles, like this one, make the critical mistake of thinking that the 30 60 90 day plan is designed to guide YOU. It’s not. The plan has nothing to do helping you “get up to speed” or “hit the ground running” and everything to do with aligning your boss and management team to a definition and framework for success. It’s designed so your hiring will be declared an unequivocal success after 3 months by the people who matter most to your career. It’s not about making sure you focus on learning or training or any of the other misinformation out there. No one cares about that. The purpose of this plan is to set the foundation for career advancement.

If you don’t build the 30 60 90 day plan as a purpose-built tool to further your own career, you’re leaving too much up to chance. When built correctly, this plan gets everyone aligned to a common definition of what success looks like so you can guarantee you’ll leave the first 90 days on pace to your next promotion.

Key takeaways:

  1. Don’t build the plan to help guide you. Build it to create a common definition of success.

  2. The 30 60 90 day plan is the first step to achieving your next promotion.

What mistakes are most common in a 30 60 90 day plan?

I’ve already covered the first big mistake people make – they build these plans for themselves instead of to align others to a definition of success. The next biggest mistake people make is not being precise enough in their plans. You have to get way past things like “meeting with key people” or “executing company orientation”. These are table stakes activities that you’ll get fired for if you DON’T complete them – there are no points to be scored here. Rather you need to build measurable deliverables that have actual value to the company in your plan. For example, auditing and optimizing one key process or implementing one new program to demonstrate the effectiveness of your process improvement. Another mistake people make is not being clear about what things you’re actually going to deliver and when. There needs to be some way of scoring your success or failure and a clear project plan with tasks and deliverables is a good way to accomplish that.

Key takeaways:

  1. Build your plan with precise definitions of what you will do. No obscure descriptions

  2. Include a scorecard in the form of a task list so your success can be measured

What does a good 30 60 90 day plan look like?

A good 30 60 90 day plan template always has the following components:

  • It starts with a clear definition of objectives that are rooted in value to the company … not you

  • It identifies specific deliverables and aligns them back to the objectives

  • It contains discrete themes for each plan stage (e.g. 30 – audit, 60 – process, 90 – program)

  • It provides a clear set of tasks with dates

  • It contains a scorecard so it’s easy to measure and ultimately demonstrate your success

Can you give me a 30 60 90 day plan template that has worked for you?

Here is a template I’ve used in my own career. You should personalize it so it relates more directly to your own job. I’ve intentionally made the design professional but not flashy – it should be easy to customize for your own purposes. 

>>> If you're a manager, check out my latest 30 60 90 Day Plan Template for Managers

>>> If you're in sales check out my brand new 30 60 90 Day Template for Sales

>>> If you're looking for a new job, check out my Manager's Job Search Bundle

4 Golden Tactics to Raise Your Salary

salary increase

Q: I finally got a raise this year ... woot woot. I know, I know ... I should probably be happier than I am. I have been waiting so long for this. But when my boss finally gave it to me, it was a 4% increase.. four percent!?!  I feel like I've been working my butt off and now when they finally recognize my contribution, I get a lousy 4% bump. BTW -- its 4% of a very small number to start with - I feel like i'm stuck in quicksand. How the heck can I increase my salary in a meaningful way?

A: I feel your pain. You've hit on one of the most frustrating dynamics we face in our careers and one I don't think most people fully understand. The cruel irony of corporate tenure is that the longer you're employed with a company, the harder it seems to be to get a substantial salary increase.

You've worked hard, you've been loyal to the company for years, you've got the experience and you know how to get things done in the organization. But when it comes to salary review time ... nuthin. Meanwhile, you watch as shiny new people join the company and deep down inside you just know they're getting paid more than you. Why else would they be so happy? And what's with that Prada laptop case? It better be a knockoff ... Its so frustrating. Then you hear whispers about colleagues who finally got so frustrated that they threatened to quit if they didn't get more money - and voila, they got a big increase. Is that the right move? The nuclear option?

Unfortunately, like many tough situations you're going to face in your career, there is no rule book for how to handle this scenario.

  • Do I march into my boss's office and demand a raise?
  • Do I threaten to quit? 
  • Do I wait patiently and hope for the best?
  • Do I start looking for a new job?

It's really hard to know what to do. And so, most of us do nothing. We keep working hard. We sit in silence. We quietly bemoan the injustices beset upon us. We complain to our husbands and wives. And we never get what we deserve. 

Here are the four most important things I've learned about raising your salary:

1. Avoid ultimatums at all costs. The "pay me or I'll quit" ultimatum is the nuclear option. Its mutual assured destruction. It should only be used when there are no other options available and even then the outcome will almost certainly be bad for everyone. The problem with the ultimatum is that your boss can never unsee it ... like that time you walked into your parent's bedroom without knocking first ... oh dear god no. When you threaten to quit or you resign as a negotiation tactic, you've permanently altered the relationship you have with the company and your manager. So even though it might work in the short term - your boss might give in - you lose in the long term because the bonds of trust have been broken. You effectively held yourself hostage and forced your boss to pay the ransom. There's no fixing that. From that point forward every time your boss looks at you, you'll be the one who bullied her. So when exciting projects come up, new opportunities arise, there will always be this hint of distrust in the relationship such that will make it even hard to get ahead. Some managers just won't negotiate this way at all. They realize that when an employee resigns or threatens to resign that they're already too far gone to save. Moreover, that by rewarding this type of behavior, they set a dangerous precedent for others in the company. This is another reason not to get into ultimatums unless you truly have no other option and you're really prepared to leave the company.

2. Take a longer term view. Nobody wants to hear this but I'm going to tell you anyways because I learned this lesson the hard way and I want to help you avoid that. When I look back on the early years of my career, I see now that I burned a lot of bridges and a great deal of emotional energy over what was, in retrospect, a pretty insignificant amount of money. I remember caring so much about the difference between my 33,000 salary and the 40,000 I thought I deserved. It really affected me. It had a major impact on my attitude at work, the decisions I made, and ultimately led to a pretty lackluster performance. Eventually I did get the 40,000 I wanted, but at what cost? The thing about income is that your mindset should always be on calculating the expected value of each action you take - you have think about the net present value of the earnings you'll make in your career and make the best decisions to maximize that. And many times that means taking a longer term view - forgoing short term gains to optimize your career path such that it will lead to bigger earnings down the road when you get into bigger salary levels. For example, you could torpedo your relationship with your boss (as I did) to get that 7K salary increase but if it means that 2 years from now when he's at a new company and looking for a new director of marketing that will earn 100K a year ... is he going to choose you? I'm not saying that you should avoid negotiating your salary in the early stages of your career. What I am saying, is that you need to make sure you focus on optimizing your path to the higher income ranges which sometimes means you need to be a bit more patient when the stakes are lower to get to higher stakes faster.

3. Always be working towards a promotion. You might think this one is self-evident but most people I see are not actively working with their boss towards a promotion. If you aren't, you should be. The fastest path to material salary increase without changing companies is to get a promotion. Annual increases and inflationary adjustments will never change your fundamental salary dynamic. You might slowly earn more but you won't be increasing your income relative to everyone else - you'll just be keeping up. You also won't be changing your salary level which is key to breaking out of the lower end salary ranges and into the higher brackets. Check out my blog on getting promotions for strategies I've used to jump up in my career. The most important thing to know is that you should have a promotion plan at all times and you need to be engaged in an ongoing dialogue with your boss as you work towards achieving it. A promotion isn't something you ask for. It’s not a request. It’s a journey you embark on over many months with your boss as your partner. 

4. Don't job hop - make purposeful moves. Job hopping is a pretty hot topic at the moment. You can read my blog on the subject which explains in detail why I think it’s a flawed career strategy. It’s no secret that the easiest way to get a significant salary increase is to change companies. Internal promotions and increases tend to be incremental, 2%, 4%, maybe 7%. So the prospect of becoming a free agent can seem alluring. But in the long run, jumping from one company to another every 2 years isn't going to get your where you want to go. It might seem like these jumps are the best way to get meaningful salary increases but in the long term there are diminishing returns as your resume starts to raise red flags for hiring managers who don't want to make a significant investment in a job hopper. It might work in the early stages of your career when you can get a nice salary jump at the new company, but it will actually hurt your chances of landing management and executive level roles down the road where the salary bumps will be so much bigger. Job hopping is pretty short sighted but purposeful company changes at key points in your career actually make a lot of sense. My experience tells me that you need to stay with a company for at least 3-4 years in order to take advantage of all the opportunities to learn and demonstrate your ability to develop and grow. You want to work at a place long enough to show a track record of promotions and role expansions to make you more attractive when you ultimately test the external job market. In this way you're probably forgoing some smaller salary bumps along the way but you're positioning yourself for a bigger wins when you inevitably move to another organization. 

We all want to earn more money. We want to be appreciated for our contributions. It can be extremely frustrating especially when you've worked for a company for a number years without a material salary increase. I hope by sharing some of the lessons I've learned along the way will help you avoid my mistakes and get the job and the salary you deserve. 

Let me know in the comments about your experiences trying to get a salary increase.

The 4 Best Business Books I've Read this Year

One of my personal goals for 2015 was to read one book a week. In my opinion we all need to be investing more time learning and expanding our expertise and spending a little less time focused on the day to day minutia of our jobs. I talk about this at length in my own book; Stealing the Corner Office. In addition to this personal goal for 2015, I also had a professional goal to evolve from being a good individual contributor and a so-so manager to being a great manager. So far this year I’ve been killing two birds with one stone by reading a crap load of management books. I’ve read 12 thus far.

I’ve listed the books I’ve read in 2015 in order of how much I enjoyed them and how much impact they had on me. For the most part these are all pretty solid books which shouldn’t be too surprising since I selected them from other people’s top 10 lists. I will say however, the top 4 on this list are absolute must reads for business professionals, aspiring managers and entrepreneurs. These are the kind of books that when you finish them you feel simultaneously happy that you’ve read such a great book, remorseful that it took you so long to read them, and sad that the experience of reading them for the first time is over. Truly great books.

Absolute Must Reads:

Solid Business Books:

  • High Output Management
  • Purple Cow
  • 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding
  • The Personal MBA
  • Eat That Frog
  • The Cluetrain Manifesto
  • What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast

The Hard Thing about Hard Things

This book by Ben Horowitz spoke to me like few business books ever have. Rather than focus on success with the revisionist lens like so many other books of this genre, this one sheds light on the impossible choices and devastating failures we really have to navigate on the path to business greatness. I absolutely loved this book.

American Icon

A really entertaining business book by Bryce Hoffman. This one reads more like an adventure novel than a collection of best practices which makes it captivating and useful. I spent a lot of time reflecting long after I’d put the book down on how I can adopt some of Allan Mulally’s practices in my own career. This book inspired me to want to be a better manager.

The Strategy Mindset

This one from Dr. Chuck Bamford is probably the most succinct playbook I’ve read on building and executing strategy. The book is quite short but in a good way. It cuts through all the crap and myths about business strategy and crystalizes it down some absolute truths. Unlike some strategy books that give you some hints but leave you hanging, this one gives a very precise framework you can easily implement in your own business. If you like reading about business strategy, I’d recommend starting here.

Disciplined Entrepreneurship   

A very practical book for entrepreneurs by Bill Aulet. I especially liked this one because it provided a real framework for approaching the start-up process. A lot of the other books in this category are too fluffy in how they describe entrepreneurship – this one gives you a real process. One way I know it was a good book is that I told myself immediately upon finishing it that I better remember to go through it again if and when I start up my own business.

If you've read any of these books i'd love to hear your thoughts. Send me an email or add a comment below. Also if you've read any other great business books lately let me know so I can add them to my list.