My First 90 Days in a New Organization: Strategic Approach and Key Takeaways

May 27, 2024

Since starting my new role as CTO at NRC Health, I’ve been deeply engaged in understanding and shaping the organization. I'm now excited to share the insights and lessons from my first 90 days. I’ve had a chance to deeply immerse myself in the company, assess our strengths and weaknesses, and start rolling out impactful changes. The CTO role in most organizations is significantly more about managing people than technology. Having a plan was essential, but it was equally important to remain flexible and adapt to the dynamic environment.

The Plan: Building a Strong Foundation

When I stepped into this role, my plan was clear and straightforward: understand the people, evaluate the technology, align our strategy with business goals, and streamline our processes. This involved a deep dive into the company culture, meeting with stakeholders, assessing our product and technology stacks, and identifying areas for improvement. While it’s good to have a solid plan, being adaptable and open to opportunities to refine that plan is crucial.


Key Takeaways: Lessons Learned and Actionable Insights

1. Balance Proven Blueprints with Cultural Adaptation

Rolling out a tried-and-tested blueprint is a great shortcut, but it must be tailored to fit the unique culture of an organization. Unofficial norms and hidden cultural behaviors often hold more sway than the official employee handbook. These unofficial norms are the unwritten rules that guide how things really get done. They can include anything from how decisions are made, to who holds the real influence, to how conflict is managed. Understanding and navigating these hidden currents is crucial for effective leadership. 

2. Act at the Right Speed

Move as quickly as the organization can tolerate. Finding the "speed of sound" is crucial—too slow, and you risk losing momentum; too fast, and you’ll face exponential pushback. If in doubt, err on the side of moving faster. Expect hiccups; learning early where constraints are in people, processes, and tools is crucial. Acting swiftly allows you to identify and address bottlenecks before they become insurmountable obstacles.

3. Radical Transparency and Communication

High transparency and frequent communication are non-negotiable. From the boardroom to the front-line teams, everyone should understand the process, see the direction, and know their role in the journey. This involves openly discussing both successes and failures, setting clear expectations, and maintaining an open dialogue. No finger-pointing—focus on the issue, not the individual. Clearly state ambitions and concerns, provide lots of feedback, and use examples from other organizations for things that seem hard today but you have seen work in the past. Be careful not to come off as elitist, but also emphasize that change is necessary and must happen.

4. Quickly Identify and Support Key Players

Evaluate your team swiftly to identify who you will double down on and who may need to change roles or exit the organization. Time is not on your side, and tough decisions must be made early. Simultaneously, ensure key personnel feel your support, so they are aligned with new hires from your network. Bringing people you know and trust can help establish a foundation of reliability and expertise. 

5. Embrace Vulnerability and Aim High

Leadership isn’t about being invincible; it’s about being human. Show vulnerability, admit mistakes, and learn from them. Set ambitious goals and trust your team to rise to the occasion. This builds a culture of resilience and continuous improvement.


Action tips

Proactive Communication: Don’t wait for issues to bubble up. Share relevant information proactively, focusing on facts and impacts rather than emotions or blame. Use data to back up your statements and remain empathetic in your delivery.

Establish Clear Guidelines: Define what information is shared openly and what remains confidential. This helps in maintaining trust without causing unnecessary anxiety or confusion.

Encourage Honest Feedback: Create channels for honest feedback from your team. This fosters a two-way dialogue and helps you gauge how well your transparency is being received. 

Celebrate Wins Openly: Transparency isn’t just about problems—it’s also about successes. Acknowledge and celebrate victories to build morale and reinforce positive behaviors.

Equip Managers:  Ensure your managers have the skills to communicate honestly and empathetically. Encourage them to act quickly and not to be constrained by their past underachievements when outcome of the previous environment. Emphasize the importance of aligning with the long-term vision and demonstrate how their roles can evolve within this new framework. This strengthens the entire leadership team and ensures consistency in messaging. 


The first 90 days in any leadership role are critical. It’s a time to lay the groundwork, establish trust, and set the stage for future success. By balancing proven strategies with cultural adaptation, acting at the right speed, maintaining radical transparency, supporting key players, and aiming high, you can navigate this period effectively.

I encourage you to reflect on your own leadership journey. Where can you introduce more transparency? How can you adapt your strategies to better fit your organization’s culture? Embrace the discomfort, build that honesty muscle, and watch your team thrive.

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