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Starting a new job is a time of optimism. In front of you is pure potential, with promises made in the interviewing process still ringing in your ears.
The first days can be a heady rush of excitement, engagement, and disorientation. Changing jobs is ranked among the highest stressors in a person’s life. Forward-thinking companies are going to great lengths to during the onboarding process to make those early days on the job comfortable, dynamic and even fun. The idea is to give newbies a strong first impression of the organization, inspiring loyalty and passion from the start.
During the first weeks, both the new hire and the company are assessing each other. Many people choose to leave a new job after only a few months, and employers generally know even sooner whether their candidate will live up to their expectations. The adage “hire slow and fire fast” is a well-worn piece of management advice.
For new employees in a management position, it can be extra overwhelming to step into a new job with a team to corral and expectations for immediate delivery. New leaders are often brought in to affect change, and all eyes are on them to see if they can pull it off.
Michael Watkins, author of the preeminent guide The First 90 Days, calls the first three months in a new job the time most “fraught with peril and loaded with opportunity.” His wisdom, and research, has helped many masterfully onboard into new positions. Consider the following advice from, and inspired by, Watkins to help you make a successful transition.
1. Go in ready to learn.
You may be going into a new position driven to do something, but first spend time listening and understanding the culture. If you have a few weeks before starting your new job, use it wisely. Read up on the company, and invite your future colleagues to lunch. Learn the names of key influencers and direct reports, and what their areas of focus are. Ask others on the outside who know the company — such as consultants or business partners — for their perspectives.
Then, spend your first week on the job as if you were a journalist conducting interviews — asking more and telling less. Watkins suggests that failing to understand the culture is a major risk factor for early derailment. You need to get a feel for your new company’s unique political currents, so that you’ll fit into the system, and know how to use it to your advantage.
2. Understand the strategy behind your efforts.
If you’ll be leading a team or even an entire organization, you have to recognize early on how to approach the challenges you’ll be facing. Watkins categorizes businesses into four main types: startup, turnaround, realignment, and sustaining success. Each type has unique issues and demands different strategies.
As Watkins describes, “In a startup, the new leader is charged with assembling the capabilities (people, funding, and technology) to get a new business, product or project off the ground. In a turnaround, the new leader takes on a unit or group that is recognized to be in trouble and works to get it back on track. In a realignment, the challenge is to revitalize a unit, product, process, or project that is drifting into trouble. In a sustaining-success situation, the new leader is shouldering responsibility for preserving the vitality of a successful organization and taking it to the next level.”
Whether you use Watkins’ classifications or your own, the important thing to remember is that not all organizations have the same problems, or the same solutions to those problems. What worked at your last company may not be suitable in your new one. Meet the organization where it is, and only then can you move forward successfully.
3. Get early wins.
Watkins talks extensively about the need to secure early achievements. Those first impressions matter and are highly visible. But even more so, early wins get you political capital you’ll need to further your future goals. Consider it like perception bias — if you’re viewed favorably early then the rose-colored glasses come out and you can enjoy a honeymoon period.
However, not all early wins are equal. Watkins suggests narrowly focusing on what is achievable and be mindful to not spread yourself too thin. He warns to take the culture into careful account so you don’t appear to be pushing through your priorities at the expense of others. And finally, he advises to select wins that matter to your boss. It’s one thing to pick your own pet projects, and an entirely different strategy to hit the issues your boss cares about. When you do the latter, you build credibility and show that you get the larger picture.
4. Build a network of trusted colleagues.
One of the most difficult aspects of being new is that you lack context, and don’t yet have the feedback channels to provide guidance. No matter your level of position, you need others who can give you the straight scoop. So start working on developing your network of trusted sources immediately — or even before you start.
When you’re new at a job you can tend to play your cards close to the vest. Push yourself to get in front of others and start forming relationships. Look for ways to extend offers or favors to others. While strong relationships are helpful to understand the culture and get your job done, they also increase your satisfaction.
As we began this article, the early months can be tough and a social network can alleviate the stress. According to a Randstad survey, 67% of employees report that having friends at work makes their job more fun and enjoyable and 55% feel that these relationships make their job more worthwhile and satisfying.