Defining Success for the First 90 Days (with Chris Surratt of Harvest Church) – Episode 216 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

defining success first 90 days

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Winning in Your New Leadership Role (Part 3)

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When you enter a new leadership role, it’s easy to be reactive to the opportunities and challenges that come with it. But if you want to experience success sooner rather than later, you need to be proactive and intentional about developing a strategy.

In Part 1 of our series on Winning in Your New Leadership Role, Amy and I discussed how to lead with a fresh vision and direction in a new role. In Part 2, I had a conversation with Jeff Brodie from Connexus Church on moving from an executive role to becoming the Senior Pastor.


This week, I sat down with Chris Surratt, one of our Ministry Consultants at The Unstuck Group, who recently transitioned into a new role as the Executive Pastor of Discipleship and Groups at Harvest Church in Southern California. Chris and I discussed how leaders in new roles can identify their key priorities and define success for their first 90 days, as well as:

  • Developing relationships and establishing credibility
  • Contextualizing your leadership
  • Establishing wins and role clarity
  • Setting boundaries for work/life balance
Sometimes what has made you most successful in one leadership role will not be what’s needed from you in the next one. #unstuckchurch [episode 216] Click to Tweet If you want to win in your new leadership position, you need to be intentional about your strategy for experiencing success, rather than just reacting to the opportunities or challenges that come your way. #unstuckchurch [episode 216] Click to Tweet

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. With any space mission, organizational startup or product release, how you launch is critical to your long-term success. And for many who change roles during the pandemic, the first 90 days in that new role can set the tone for years to come. On this week’s podcast, Tony shares a conversation with Chris Surratt, Executive Pastor of Discipleship and Groups at Harvest Church, on his recent transition into a new role and what he’s learned about how to launch successfully. Before you listen today, though, make sure you stop and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, you’ll get resources to go along with this week’s content, including our leader conversation guide, access to our podcast resource archive and bonus resources that you won’t find anywhere else. Just go to the and subscribe. Now, let’s join Tony and Amy for today’s conversation.

Amy (01:03):

Well, in case you didn’t join us last week, we’ve launched a new series of episodes. That’s all about winning in a new leadership role. And today’s episode is all about defining, and hopefully experiencing, success in the first 90 days of a new leadership role. And, Tony, why the first 90 days?

Tony (01:19):

Yeah, well, like anything, I think it’s important to set foundation. We always talk about, even in the Unstuck Process, before we talk about direction and action around our ministry strategy, we need to set the foundation and make sure it’s solid and clear. And I think the same principle holds true as we’re stepping into new leadership responsibilities because of that, that first 90 days is really essential to that foundation for success, hopefully that we’ll experience for years to follow. But secondly, the reason why I focused on the first 90 days for this episode, Amy, was because of a book I read years ago by a guy; his name’s Michael Watkins. This book is called The First 90 Days. It was published by Harvard Business School. And unlike Good to Great, which we referred to a few weeks ago, which was written 20 years ago, this book was only written 18 years ago, so it’s not that old.

New Speaker (02:15):

So it’s newer.

Tony (02:15):

But again, the principles, I think, especially for anyone that’s stepping into new leadership responsibility, it’s a good book. It’s a good book to read through as you’re walking through that type of a transition. And we’ll certainly include a link to the book in the show notes because some of the principles that you will read about in that book are going to pop up in the conversation we’re about to hear.

Amy (02:39):

Well, speaking of that conversation, tell us a little bit about the person that you’re about to interview.

Tony (02:44):

Yeah, Chris Surratt is a good friend of mine. Actually, we connected back when we were both serving in churches and the Upstate of South Carolina. He was working for Seacoast Church at the time; I was on the team at New Spring Church. And because of Chris’s previous experience both in small groups ministry and in large multi-site churches, I invited him to join our team at The Unstuck Group as one of our ministry consultants six years ago.

New Speaker (03:14):

That was six years ago already?

Tony (03:14):

It’s hard to believe isn’t it? Yeah. The primary reason, though, why I reached out to Chris related to today’s topic is because he’s in the middle of his first 90 days in his new leadership position with the team at Harvest Church in Riverside, California. And because of that, I thought Chris could provide some key insights into today’s topic. So I started the conversation with Chris by asking him specifically about his new role at Harvest, and here’s what he had to share.

Chris (03:49):

Yeah, it’s an exciting time in my life. I’ve been at Lifeway for the last six years, I guess, something like that. Before that, I was on staff at a couple of churches as an executive pastor, but I have just recently in the last 45 days started a new role with the church Harvest Christian Fellowship, which is mainly based in Southern California and also has a campus in Maui, Hawaii, which is where I just got back from, which is a nice perk of being on staff there. But yeah, I am the Executive Pastor of Discipleship and Small Groups at Harvest. I’m actually still living in Tennessee. So I’m doing a lot of it remotely but going out about a week a month and spending some time out there. And yeah, it’s a new and an old role. So it’s kinda different. I’m just going back to what I’ve done but in a new way.

Tony (04:42):

Well, we were thinking about titling this episode “Success Within the First 90 Days,” but maybe it’s “Success Within 45 days And We’ll See What Happens at That 90 Days.” I don’t know. But, Chris, it seems like one of the keys to success with any job transition is to develop relationships and to establish credibility on the team as quickly as possible. So how are you trying to approach that at Harvest right now?

Chris (05:09):

Yeah. And I’ll probably refer to this book quite a bit; I’ve read through it now I think four or five times. Every time I’ve gotten a new role, like I’ve gotten a promotion or I’ve started at a new company or organization, I go back, but it’s The First 90 Days, which I know you’re familiar with, Tony. But I learned a lot from that. And one of the biggest things I learned was to accelerate your learning until you can get through what they call the breakthrough point or the breakeven point, where you are contributing as much as you’re consuming from your organization. And so, right now, I feel like I’m consuming a lot, but within that, establishing those relationships with the stakeholders, with my peers, you know, all of the people that I need to learn from, as I learned the history of the church. You know, this church is now 50 years old. So obviously, they have a lot of things that they’ve done for a long time. A lot of the staff members have been there—pastors have been there 35 years. And so I don’t want to come in and just say, “I’ve done this before. Here’s how we should do it going forward.” I want to establish those relationships; listen to the people that have been there. So I understand the culture, the history, the politics, you know, everything that goes into just an organization before I do anything else. So yeah, you said I’m 45 days; I’m kind of halfway through my 90-day plan that I draw out. In this, I’m really consuming a lot, but I’m learning a lot by establishing those relationships and listening a lot more than I’m talking right now.

Tony (06:47):

Yeah. And I know this because I’ve known you for so long, Chris. I mean, curiosity is just built into your personality; it’s who you are. And so my suspicion is this plan that you have mapped out and how you’re processing through it, it almost comes naturally to you, but it’s a good reminder for those of us that might not have that wiring in us naturally that we need to lead with curiosity when we’re starting on in a transition like this. Ministry strategies, in many ways, they often look identical from church to church. I’ve noticed this as I’ve been working with so many churches through the years, but especially as an outsider looking in, I mean, you sometimes look at two different churches, and you think they’re the same church. But, in reality, what I’ve learned what makes churches distinctive, it’s their culture. And oftentimes, that distinctive culture is driven by the senior pastor. So my question is how are you trying to catch up to speed and understanding of Harvest’s unique culture?

Chris (07:46):

Yeah, you’re right about the different cultures. I’ve now worked for, this’ll be my third church, really. And as far as the outside looks, they’re very similar between Seacoast, Crosspoint and Harvest. I mean, the mission is the same. We’re reaching lost people. We’re getting them connected into groups and discipling them, but the way that happens, in the communication and the way just it’s led, is very different from church to church. And I’m learning that with Harvest. Like I said, they’ve been around for 50 years, and Greg Laurie, who’s the pastor, has been the pastor since day one. He’s launched the church. He’s still pastoring and still going strong at 50 years. And so I know coming in that I’m going to have to really understand what Greg’s style is or even you know, his love language. Every pastor, every organizational leader has a love language, you know, a way that they operate, the way they like to be communicated with—all of that. And so I’ve spent quite a bit of time going into this learning Greg’s love languages, how he communicates. I had a little bit of a headstart, honestly, because I had started training their leaders a couple years ago and working with them. But still, there’s nothing like one-on-one time. And so it’s funny with Greg. He’s not a meeting guy; he’s just not. And I’m more of a, I think you’re driven this way, Tony, I am a meeting guy. I like getting into if we have an agenda, you know, it just gets everybody on the same page. Greg’s just not like that. He likes to go and ride a motorcycle and then stop for lunch just somewhere. And then we talk church, and we talk, you know, strategy. And so one of the things that just came naturally is I ride motorcycles. And so every time I go out, I go riding with Greg and a couple other staff members. And that’s how he likes to communicate. He also likes to communicate through text. And so I’ll get texts every once in a while from Greg, or I’ll text him. And that’s just what he likes. And so I’ve spent a lot of time figuring that out and hopefully leaning into that as I learned his leadership style.

Tony (09:54):

Yeah. So our team has been working with Harvest as well, and I’ve had some time to spend with Greg and some of the team there. And one of the conversations recently I had with Amy, I said, “Amy, I hope that when I’m Greg’s age, I have as much energy as he has.” And then I thought, “who am I kidding? I don’t have that much energy right now.”

Chris (10:15):

I don’t. The man is 68 years old. And he’ll get on a motorcycle, and he’s gone. I mean, I cannot keep up on the road, and that’s Greg and life. It’s just that he moves so fast, so quick. And so I just have to try to hang on and get a few bites every once in a while.

Tony (10:34):

Chris, I found that with my job transitions in the past, they’ve also been huge opportunities for my personal leadership development. And in fact, what I found, and this may sound crazy, but sometimes what made me successful in one leadership role, hasn’t necessarily worked in a new job. And so I’m just wondering, have you found, you know, this could be the case for you as well? Do you see this as a leadership development opportunity for yourself? And if so, what are you sensing maybe you’re learning in the season about your leadership?

Chris (11:07):

Yeah, definitely every time I’ve taken a new role, it does that, even if it’s similar to you know, skillsets that I’ve had in the past. You know, I’ve been an executive pastor; I’ve been the group’s guy. And so I understand that. It’s still, you know, I’m six years removed from doing that at the local church level. I’ve been for the last six years working at a publishing company, working with a lot of churches, working with The Unstuck Group, but not really diving in deep with one team, one church. And so I really have to kind of go back and exercise those muscles again. What does it mean? You know, what’s great about consulting and working with Lifeway is I could come in for a couple of days, tell them what they should do or what they can do, and then I leave. And they have to actually do it. Well, now, I’m like, I have to do it. And you know, I have all these ideas, but I have to actually execute on those. And so, yeah, it definitely is a growth for me personally. It’s also a growth in a style of leading. Every time I take a new role, you know, if I’m leading people, they need to be led in a different way. And so, you know, I’ll go back to basic books, like The One Minute Manager, and figure out, okay, is this a D1, D2, D3, D4 type of leadership moment? And with each direct report or each person I’m leading, they need to be led in a different way. And so I’m in the middle of that. I’m spending a lot of one-on-one time with people that I’m personally leading and just seeing what they need from me, what kind of leadership they need. Do they need, you know, more one-on-one or less one-on-one, all of that. And so, yes, it definitely stretches me as a leader to take on a new responsibility or a new role like I’m taking on right now.

Tony (12:52):

So in any job, but I would argue especially in a new leadership role, you can’t win if you don’t know the win. So I’m wondering how have you worked with your new boss to kind of set expectations for your new role and to clarify your wins, Chris?

Chris (13:09):

Yeah. One of the things I learned from The First 90 Days, too, is when you’re starting out or even before you officially start, you should negotiate your expectations, negotiate your wins. And that’s something that we’ve done at Harvest. I know when we started talking about what the role could look like you know, I asked them, “what are some of your expectations? What are you looking for when it comes to groups, growth in groups, people in groups and discipleship process.” And so my direct boss sent me some things; I responded with, “Hey, that sounds great. But we might want to adjust this a little bit from my experience. We’re not going to be able to go from zero to 100 in, you know, 60 days. We’re going to have to expand that timeline a little bit.” So we went back and forth on this probably two or three times before we had both settled in on, “okay, this seems like a winnable plan.” And it worked from his side or Harvest side; it worked from my side. So yeah, I would encourage anyone, whether you’re going to a brand new company or a brand new church or you’re moving up in the organization to another role, to make sure that you have set expectations that you both agree to because it’s just going to be really difficult if you can’t pull off what you’re promising. And you burn out that way; you really do. And so that’s, yeah, that’s something that we definitely did was negotiate those expectations.

Tony (14:35):

Chris, my tendency, and I put this on myself, I fully realize it, but my tendency is to go all in in the early days of a new job. And before I know it, those early days, they extend into early months. And then before I realize it, my job and my life are out of balance. So with that in mind, maybe help give me some coaching for the future. But what encouragement would you give other leaders in new roles about staying healthy in all areas of their lives?

Chris (15:07):

Yeah, I was actually going to ask you, Tony, if you could coach me on that because I have the same tendencies. I mean, I want to go in and obviously you want to achieve early wins, which is important to do. So you look for those things that you can win at right away. But then the tendency is to try to do everything at once and try to accomplish everything in the first 90 or 100 days. And that easily, I’ve seen it in my life, leads to burnout. You know, there’s a scale that I’ve seen when it comes to stress. A certain amount of stress can be really healthy, that it pushes our performance. And so if you’ve been in a role for a long time and you’ve done the same thing for a long time, actually it doesn’t really help you because you start to kind of fall off if you’re not being pushed into new areas and new expertise areas, which are stretching you. But then there’s also this line that you can get to where stress leads to burnout, where it’s too much, and it leads you over the cliff. And so I think there are some things that you’ve got to do to make sure that you’re staying behind that line where you’re falling off the cliff. And for me, one of them is personal disciplines. I have to stick to my spiritual disciplines, my routine as much as possible. So staying in the word every morning, staying, you know, in scripture, staying in prayer. Also with my family, that we keep our routines as much as possible. It was great for this move because we didn’t have to move across the country. We’re staying in the same city, but I have done moves where you move, you know, hundreds of miles, and you have to change family routines. And so you really need to pay attention to that because you can get locked into what you’re doing at work and forget your family. And so I think that’s super important. So yeah. So those spiritual disciplines, understanding your plan, you know, going into it the first 90-day plan, your plan after that, helps me stay on track and not try to do everything at one time. Knowing that I’ve got this that I need to get accomplished in 30 days, and then I’ve got this in the next 30 days is super helpful. And then the last thing I would say, Tony, is having a good support system. Having those people that are maybe outside of that new job, maybe outside of your family that understand what you’re going through, you know, just the pressures of it. For me, that’s other pastor friends that have gone through similar things. It’s guys like you, Tony, that I can lean into but just having that support system. You know, every job or every role after about I would say six months, three to six months, starts to feel like you’re in a valley, and you’ve done everything you think you can do to this point. And how are you going to get to the other side? And that’s when you really need somebody to help you or say, “you can do it. You can get there; here’s maybe some strategies.” And so, yeah, so having that outside support system is critical.

Tony (18:10):

Yeah. Chris, the overriding theme I’m hearing in your conversation is you had a proactive plan for how you were going to move into this new transition period in your life. And I think many of us, we tend to jump into new opportunities and we just kind of react to the opportunities and the challenges as they come at us. And so in all of these areas, I think there’s just a lot of wisdom in having that plan mapped out as you’re taking that step to work that plan. Last question I have, and then I’ll see if you have any additional thoughts, but we had the opportunity, I mentioned it earlier, to go through a strategic planning process with pastor Greg and the team at Harvest while you were stepping into your new role. And I was just wondering, did that help you as a new leader on the team? Did that create some unexpected challenges for you? What was that experience like for you, Chris?

Chris (19:05):

Yeah. And that was not planned at all. It just kind of happened.

Tony (19:09):

No, yeah.

Chris (19:10):

But it’s been super helpful, I’m telling you. One of the hurdles of joining a new organization is figuring out who they are, why they got to where they are, you know, just the history of it, their vision, their mission. I mean, all of that usually takes quite a bit of time because you’ve got to talk to the right people. You’ve got to dig through whatever documentation they might have. You know, when I went to Lifeway, I had to learn all the acronyms. There were just so many acronyms. I mean, it was just incredible, and it would have been helpful to just have them written down somewhere. Well, it’s kind of that way with Harvest because Unstuck came in and did a strategic plan. I was actually a part of the health assessment part, which was the first part where we went in and just said, “okay, how are we doing health-wise?” And then you and Amy came in and did a strategic plan with them, where you kind of came up with the next 90 days in the future and then staffing and structure. All of that is now documented for me. And I can go in and easily just look at charts and look at things and see the history of the church. And also sitting in on part of it, I was able to be a little bit of an active participant on, “this is where we could go in the future.” And so, yes, I would suggest if you are changing churches, suggest that they bring The Unstuck Group in at the same time, and then you can learn everything you want to learn about the church. It was very helpful going through a process like that at the same time as I was transitioning into the organization.

Tony (20:43):

Well, here’s what’s crazy, Chris, and I don’t think consultants normally do this. And this is probably in the don’t do books someplace about consulting, but I’ve had churches reach out to us, reach out to me in the past. They are in transition, and it makes sense, I think, intuitively; let’s go through a strategic planning process, and then we can find a leader that helps us move our vision and our strategy forward. But I actually tell them, “no, go find your leader first.” And then I want to engage with you and that new leader through this process so that you’re moving together, locking arms on where you’re heading in your ministry. And so I think they’re always shocked a little when I say, “no, I don’t want you to spend money with our team for this process right now. Let’s wait. Let’s wait until the new leaders in place.” Well, Chris, I really do appreciate the insights you’ve shared. Any final thoughts?

Chris (21:40):

Yeah, I mean, you said it; I think the important thing is having a plan going into the new role. And again, whether it’s a brand new church or a brand new organization, especially if it’s that, having a plan going into that can keep you from getting burned out, overwhelmed, trying to do too much. But even if you’re moving into a new role where they’re promoting you to another level, something like that, just having a plan, knowing that you need to accelerate your learning, talking to people, listening more than you’re telling people what to do—all of that will help you get off to a better start. And I’m seeing that right now; again, I’m 45-ish days into it with Harvest. So I think maybe, Tony, you and I should do a follow-up in about 45 days. And maybe it’s working, but it feels like it’s really helping me kind of get off to this start. So yeah, I just encourage you to have a plan and utilize that plan.

Amy (22:41):

That was very helpful to hear from someone who’s fresh in their new position. Tony, what stood out to you from that conversation?

Tony (22:48):

Yeah. So first of all, I loved how Chris, and again, this is alluding to a principle from that book The First 90 Days that talked about the importance of accelerating your learning when you’re going into a new work environment, and on many different levels, to make sure we have a plan to learn about people and the organization as we’re stepping into that new role. And related to that, the importance really of focusing on developing those key relationships early on, and just making sure before we dive heads down into our new job getting work done that we’re prioritizing developing those key relationships. Chris also mentioned the importance of discovering the distinctive culture of any church, and, Amy, you and I have worked with hundreds of churches between the two of us. And there’s no doubt about it. Again, looking from the outside in, you might think those churches seem to be very similar, like-minded ministries approaching ministries in similar ways. But when you actually get to know the people and the culture, you find out it’s actually very distinctive from church to church. And so it’s important when you’re stepping into new leadership responsibility especially to make sure you get a clear understanding of the unique culture. Chris talked about the opportunity of growing his own leadership in that season, and we’ve probably all experienced this in moments of transition, either in our lives or in leadership responsibilities. It’s actually a good opportunity for us to revisit, “where are we today and where could we be taking steps in our own leadership development moving forward?” And then finally, he talked about the importance of clarifying the wins for his new position, and how, again, a principle from The First 90 Days, he had to negotiate the expectations around his new roles so that both sides were clear about what does the win look like for this brand new position at the church?

Amy (24:48):

Well, based on that conversation with Chris, Tony, again, what’s one specific next step that you would recommend to new leaders that they could take in their new role?

Tony (24:56):

Yeah, I think the key thing underlying this entire conversation was just making sure, as you’re stepping into a new position, especially new leadership position, that you develop a proactive plan going into that new role and that you focus on working that plan. And if you want to win in your new leadership position, you need to be really intentional about your strategy for experiencing success in your new role, rather than just reacting to the opportunities or challenges that come your way. And, Amy, just to preview where we’re heading with our episode next week, let me offer this encouragement as well to those of you who are established leaders in established roles. I think you can still look at this moment in time as an opportunity for you, as well, to develop a proactive plan and work your plan. In other words, act like you’re a new leader in a new role and develop a plan to accelerate your learning, develop your key relationships, discover the distinctive or establish the distinctive culture of your organization, grow your own leadership and clarify your wins. This is an opportunity for you also to kind of set that reset button and establish new leadership muscle in your own life as well. So that you’re almost like looking at your current role as a new leadership opportunity, and that shift in perspective of how you’re viewing and engaging your established role may just be what you need to breathe fresh life into your leadership, especially on the heels of the challenges and disruptions that we’ve recently experienced in our ministries.

Amy (26:40):

Yeah, that’s going to be a fun conversation next week. I think a of people will be encouraged by that, Tony. Well, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (26:48):

Yeah. As Chris explained in our conversation, we’ve been working with his new team at Harvest while he’s been stepping into his new leadership role, and we’ve heard from many new leaders that it’s been helpful to engage the Unstuck Process, to shape fresh direction and clarify new ministry priorities during those types of transitions. So, whether you’re in a new role or not, we’d love to come alongside your team to do just that, especially in this unique ministry season. And if you’d like to learn more about what that could look like, please reach out to us today at

Sean (27:25):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If you like what you’re hearing on this podcast and it’s helped you in some way, we’d love your help in getting the word out. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform and giving us a review there. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, have a great week.

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