Your First 90-Days

By Warren S. Cook– Chief of HR Advisory Services at TAHR & Co-Author LYIS

Starting a new position or role can be both exhilarating and stressful simultaneously.  There is a significant dichotomy between school expectations and yours from day one that can either set you up for success or down a path to failure.  This fact leads to the necessity of having a prepared and effective 90-day strategic plan. Transformational leadership through effective planning, which is a contributing factor of achievement for any leader, will be instrumental in achieving desired success and school outcomes.  Consider these two scenarios you may certainly encounter.

Scenario 1 – New Organization

You are the new Principal at the international school of your dreams.  For years you have prepared yourself for this opportunity, from the long hours of academic training to practical application of your skills as a teacher and ultimately a member of the administrative leadership team.  However, while you have been confident thus far in understanding the school you served for many years, you feel less confident that you understand or will understand everything about your new organization.  Nothing to worry about though, right?  They will provide you with everything you need to succeed, or at least you hope they do.  What if they don’t?

Imagine for a moment the core reason you were hired into this prestigious international school role was the prior incumbent was incapable of achieving the goals of the school.  Or, perhaps, you were hired because the last principal failed to demonstrate a servant leadership model in which he/she lacked an inclusive or engaging style, alienating the administrative team and resulting in failure.  Then again, student enrolments may be down, marketing may be less than desirable, revenue plummeting, and the teaching staff are seeking to jump ship.

Any or all of these and other situations could be the reason you have been hired as Principal of this amazing international school, and yet you are walking into a potential disaster falling in your lap.   You will need to transform the current situation and state of the organization into the future state of success you and the school are charged with accomplishing.

Retention, transition or instability of the administrative leadership team may also be an obstacle you need to overcome.  “One of the most often cited barriers to successful international school leadership is the lack in continuity of leadership itself” (Double and Cook, 132).  Without a strategic 90-day plan you are almost certainly placing yourself at a disadvantage.

Scenario 2 – New Role

Promotions are a wonderful event in our journey of professional growth and advancement.  The role of Principal was vacant, you submitted your name into the hat, and after a surely rigorous and lengthy interviewing process you were offered the position.  Exciting times ahead, right?

Maybe, or maybe this is your first role at the administrative management or senior leadership level.  Potentially, you have all the academic and teaching experience well in hand, however you have rarely if ever, had direct staff you were responsible for.  Further, if we make this scenario realistic, there are going to be members of the administrative leadership team who are not in favor of you taking on the role.  Maybe they wanted the job, maybe they supported the prior Principal and are aligned with prior values and practices.  Regardless of the actual situation, your excitement may be misplaced if you find the role is much more challenging due to the people involved in the organization, the cultural differences and any lack of an inclusive culture. Developing the appropriate mindset and building the cognitive skills to manage and lead the complexities of multiple levels of stakeholders while still pursuing the goals of the school is a significant challenge. Ultimately, one that may only be overcome if the leader possesses and demonstrates the ability to balance the needs of these competing factors (Levy, Beechler, Taylor, & Boyacigiller, 2007).

A relevant side note, one of the most challenging situations during an individual’s career can be rising from a peer group into a role of leadership of the group.  This is a daunting task for any professional, and the higher level the role, the more critical a successful transition must be.

A Strategy for Success is Key

During the first 90 days for either scenario, there are steps you can take to prepare yourself for success and contribute tremendous value to the organization.  To build this 90-day strategic plan, you must conduct your own due diligence to uncover the real “current state” of the school.  Without knowing where things stand today, you will be unable to develop a plan to move the organization forward to the desired “future state”.  This includes achieving established goals for the role and the school.

Most if not all international schools develop an inclusive culture, focus most of their time and resources on programs to serve the students effectively, build a myriad of extracurricular activities to expand the minds and capabilities of the students – all while remaining profitable, demonstrating effective academic and organizational leadership, and supporting the retention and success of the teaching and administrative staff.

What does this all mean for you?

It will simply not be enough for you to start day one without developing a strategic plan for your first 90 days in your new position or role.  To everyone already in the international school, you are the “new change”, meaning you not only have to master everything noted herein, but you must also master change management and be an ambassador of transparency as you build trust with those you serve.  “Knowing how to plan, initiate, and manage change is a vital tool for the international school principal to work on in partnership with HR” (Double and Cook, 133).

Be Prepared

1.     Your mission during the first 30 days is to assimilate and learn the current state of systems, processes, and people, as well as the culture, expectations, challenges and capabilities.

2.     During days 31 to 60 you need to implement low hanging fruit solutions and begin a strategic plan for long term initiatives in cooperation with your staff.

3.     From day 61 to 90 you need to enhance engagement and collaboration with your team to develop a definitive strategic initiative to achieve all goals and objectives of your international school.

Warren Cook is the Author of ‘Applicant Interview Preparation – Practical Coaching for Today’ and Co-Author of ‘Leading Your International School. He is a HR professional of over 25 years.

To connect with Warren, you can click HERE for email, or review his LinkedIn profile and connect with him online HERE.

International Schools can now benefit from a vast suite of HR Services from LYIS and TAHR Services including the following:

·       HR Advisory Program

·       HR Engagement Program

·       Individual Interview Preparation Coaching

·       Individual First 90-Days Coaching

·       Individual Culture & Inclusion Training

·       Attend an upcoming HR learning series covering full life cycle HR Management

·       More to come….

Warren will be appearing in the Webinar ‘The First 90-Days’ On Monday 7th August, 2023.  To register for this free webinar click HERE.  This webinar provides detailed guidance on building your strategic plan and practical application for success.

Works Cited

Double, Andre, and Warren S Cook. Leading Your International School. 16Leaves, 2023.

Levy, O., Beechler, S., Taylor, S., & Boyacigiller, N. A. (2007). What we talk about when we talk about ‘global mindset’: Managerial cognition in multinational corporations. Journal of International Business Studies, 38(2), 231–258.

3 thoughts on “<strong>Your First 90-Days</strong>”

  1. Get prepared for the first 90 days as an international school leader is extremely important, to plan, to have faith in yourself. Warren’s experience and expertise is absolutely incredible, thank you for providing the opportunity for us to get close to the correct practices at the beginning of new semester. Really look forward to tomorrow ‘s webinar!

    1. Appreciate the kind words and certainly looking forward to sharing this important and practical strategic guidance to you and the other attendees. Be safe and see you tomorrow!

  2. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts Warren and so much of what you said resonated with me particularly the piece about leadership needing to be aligned to ensure continuity. I also like Patrick Lencioni’s Four Disciplines Model in this case. I have been in both the situations you mentioned so thanks for condensing ‘The first 90 days’ – that is really very useful.

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