Imagine you’ve just accepted a job with a new organization. As a first-time leader, you have your work cut out for you. You’re ready to take all you’ve learned and get started proving you’re worthy of promotions or having been hired in the first place.
Those are common feelings for anyone starting a new position, but I want to stress the importance of slowing down and being strategic. Many careers get sidetracked during the first 90 days in a new job because the entry was too fast. When this happens, you risk being marked permanently as having limited effectiveness, or worse yet, you may not make it to your one-year anniversary!
Integrating into a new organization or position takes quite a bit of thought and savvy. Ignoring potential difficulties can cause much distress. There are, however, four tips you can follow to smooth your transition. This is true whether you are a CEO, COO, C-suite executive, or manager.
Don’t let your title dictate your strategy.
Four strategies to try at work
1. Connect with your boss
In the exuberance of the recruiting cycle, promises made can turn out to be unfulfilled later. Let’s face it, during the hiring dating game, many bosses (Boards) make promises or commitments they can’t deliver, or live up to, once the hire is made. This is why it is important to establish ground rules for working with your boss. Some bosses like daily updates, while others want to be briefed in writing.
So, sit down with your manager and talk through how you’ll interact with one another. Get it right from the beginning. Don’t wait until the relationship becomes strained. Invest the necessary time to get your new relationship off to a great start. “Many careers have sidetracked during the first 90 to 180 days in a new job.”
Failing to effectively communicate with your new boss can have disastrous consequences. For example, a new employee, Thomas, was hired to become his boss’ replacement after she announced plans to retire in 12 to 18 months. But when he came on board, Thomas behaved as if he already had the boss’ title. He wasn’t even courteous enough to check in with her on a regular basis. Unfortunately, he didn’t reconfirm his assumptions at the outset and was fired before his first year ended.
This tragedy cost the company a substantial sum of money in hiring and replacement costs. It also cost Thomas his job and was a blow to his self-esteem. This problem could have been avoided if he took the obvious and important action of aligning himself with his boss’ thinking and fully understanding her needs. After all, bosses have bosses and are under pressure to deliver, as well. It’s not always about us.
On the other hand, each of us is interested in creating value where we work. We also need to branch out from our cozy office confines by partnering with other folks to improve the company’s bottom-line performance. A spirit of collaboration will help carry you a long way. As a new leader/manager of an organization – whether a functional unit or a business unit – communication is key to letting the individuals know who reports to whom and other salient factors that will help smooth the transition and your integration into the organization. Remember, it may be clear to you but not apparent to others in the organization.
2. Pick the low-hanging fruit first
Professional coaches will tell a new manager/leader coming into an organization to initiate two specific actions to manage the risk accompanying their assimilation. First, “pick some low-hanging fruit” by making decisions or working on projects with a low risk of failure, enabling the organization to feel good about the accomplishment. If a new manager/leader accomplishes something that everyone feels good about early on, she has accelerated her acceptance into the organization. The new leader/manager needs to gain the trust of the organization and this, in and of itself, requires time as others watch your behaviors and decisions.
3. Build winning teams
Like anything else, building successful teams is the key to completing complex assignments, especially when projects cross into other functional areas. One of the biggest impacts you can have on an organization is improving its operating efficiency. The next step is to articulate a team mission.
Many times, because we’re so excited to get on with the work, we fail to take the necessary initial steps to ensure smooth team functioning. In your team’s mission statement, include the following statements: “Building successful teams is the key to completing complex assignments.” What does the team do? What’s the team’s purpose? Getting this right will save a lot of aggravation later. Fail to do this correctly and risk the demise of your team.
There is a cliché about new teams – Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing – every team has a life cycle that goes through a psychological rhythm of its own.
Setting goals, achieving goals, and celebrating accomplishments is a natural time sequence before setting new goals. Who will benefit from the team’s work? Who’s the customer? In forming your team, especially with individuals outside your functional area, recruit, appoint, or assign individuals who are conceptually on board with the team’s intended purpose. This will go a long way to gathering organizational support for the project and its intended outcomes. What are the operating principles of the team? How often does the team meet? Establishing the team’s values early on will contribute enormously to its successful operation.
4. Establish your goals
Whether you’re an individual contributor, a member of a team, or the leader, establishing goals will facilitate achieving your objectives. Many professionals dive into their new jobs without knowing where they’re headed. Operating on emotion and without much thought, they wade into off-limits areas or inadvertently get ahead of themselves in terms of organizational acceptance. Setting your trajectory is essential, and communicating with your boss and having their support will go a long way to being successful as you “grow” into your role. As you achieve your goals, whether organizational or personal, be sure to take the time to celebrate these accomplishments. Reward yourself!
Desh Deshpande, a noted Boston entrepreneur who’s founded several companies, says, “In life, we juggle several balls, work, family, friends, and your own philosophy. These balls are crystal balls, except for the work ball, which is a rubber ball. If ever you get into crunch time and have to drop a ball, make sure to drop the work because the rubber ball bounces back. If ever you shatter the crystal ball, it is impossible to piece back together.”
Hard-charging professionals must allocate time almost daily to rebalance their personal ecosystems. If we’re strung out, we cannot be present for ourselves, our colleagues, our teammates, or the company. Ultimately, we all want to create careers that are meaningful to us personally. To others, we’re privileged to serve, whether they’re inside the company or our external customers.
Recharge your batteries early and often. You and your colleagues will be better for it. And, with your batteries recharged, you’ll find it easier to navigate the challenges and rewards of your new job successfully.
Now ask yourself…Am I a Leader?