Performance Journal: Edition 14

Toni Duggan on her path to the top of women’s soccer
Sam Richardson

What were you doing 77 days ago? How much have you achieved since? If the answer to the first question is, ‘starting a new job’, and the answer to the second is, ‘not as much as I would have liked’, then rest easy; you’re not alone.

The first stages of any new role – even in the pressurised environment of high performance – require a raft of soft skills: patience, empathy, communication and open-mindedness. If the new role is a leadership position, you might be required to convey some sort of ‘vision’ – a grand plan for the future. This is a strategic goal you’d like to pursue; it doesn’t preclude a watching brief, and it doesn’t mean you have to get stuck into the nitty gritty of the tactics, changing the day-to-day, straight away.

It’s logical: the more you understand an organisation, its culture and the people that make it tick – and the more they see you trying to understand – the more likely you are to be able to understand how to get buy-in for your vision; how to implement a series of effective tactics that work towards that overall vision.

Just how long should you go listening and learning before you start speaking and doing? Dr Michael Watkins’ ‘The First 90 Days’ has become a seminal management text since its initial release in the early 2000s, and the concept it revolves around – that it takes a minimum of 90 days to adapt to a new role (but of course, read Watkins’ onboarding bible and he’ll tell you how to take charge quicker and more effectively) – has become accepted wisdom. But a sensibly steady assimilation process can feel frustrating, especially if results aren’t going the way of your organisation.

Just ask Frank De Boer, or, more pertinently, his two most recent paymasters at top tier Italian and English soccer sides Inter Milan and Crystal Palace. Sacked from the Inter job after just 85 days in 2016, the Dutchman shaved a week off after being let go by Palace just 77 days – and four consecutive league defeats – in. Does De Boer have a right to feel hard done by? He was appointed to usher in a new era for Premier League side Palace, to bring a sophisticated, ‘Ajax-style’ playing philosophy, but was he given enough time to implement his plans? Changing a playing culture requires, trust, resource and patience, little of which De Boer seems to have received at Palace. But as sports entities further professionalise, the business of winning becomes a matter of exponentially higher financial concern. And ownership trigger fingers get ever itchier.

2018 marks 15 years since the release of Watkins’ book. Perhaps it’s time for a sport-focused anniversary edition; title: ‘The First 60 Days’.

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