The first 2-3 months after starting a new job are critical. Here is a bit of executive coaching on how to make sure you are successful in your new role.
This post is intended to be a brief guide to help you negotiate the first 2-3 months of a new job. The insights here are from a variety of sources as well as my personal executive experience and that of my clients.
There are at least three core things you need to do in the first 2-3 months in a new role:
- Build relationships
- Assess the situation
- Score some quick wins
The most important thing you need to do by far is build relationships. Why? I have seen it first hand. In one case an extremely effective leader came into an organization, assessed the situation accurately, scored quick wins, and was let go 6-9 months later.
The reason? She hadn’t formed the right type of relationship with her boss and the influential people around her.
So, how do you build the right relationships? The first thing to do is not assume that you have the solution to whatever challenges exist before you arrive.
ACTION STEP: Build relationships by asking questions
I have found asking these same questions of everyone I meet during a transition very helpful (from Michael Watkins’ book “The First 90 Days”):
- What are the biggest challenges the organization is facing (or will face) in the near future?
- Why is the organization facing (or going to face) these challenges?
- What are the most promising unexploited opportunities for growth?
- What would need to happen for the organization to exploit the potential of these opportunities?
- If you were me, what would you focus attention on?
Asking these questions can take a surprising amount of time, but I find that you get great results from them, in particular question #5.
The questions also help you assess the situation around you while making your team (and those adjacent to it) feel aligned with you.
While asking these questions to the people on your team is an obvious step (and don’t forget to find out your boss’s answers to these questions as well), you also have to figure out the key stakeholders you need to connect with and ask these questions of.
ACTION STEP: Figure out the key stakeholders
Ask 3-5 people you feel comfortable with (e.g. your boss, peers, your team, etc) who are the 5 most important stakeholders within the company that you need to connect with. Look for people both inside and outside of your department.
I would ask this question of at least 3 people so that you are sure you have the right list. For each person on this list you want to ask the 5 questions above and the following 2:
- What are your team’s primary goals for the year?
- How can I (or my team) help bring them to fruition?
This goes a long way to setting the tone for your relationship and establishes you as a valuable partner.
The next thing you want to do is try to identify a mentor from outside your division. It can be someone who is at the peer level or above, but try to find someone who has tenure in the organization and is well respected.
The ideal person is someone who has had many different roles across the firm. This individual should be able to give you the lay of the land, set context for what you see going on around you, and be able to do so without seeing you as a competitor.
People in corporate strategy departments (if your firm has one) or finance departments can be good in this role because they tend to interact with all the other business units. –The key is finding the right person who can see the forest and not just the trees around them.
ACTION STEP: Map stakeholders’ agendas
- Find a mentor who is well respected and has tenure in the organization
- Use that mentor to help you complete a visual map (org chart) for each of the stakeholders above using their insight and what you found out from your meetings with them.
The purpose of the visual map is to give you a representation of who the key stakeholders are, where they fit into the broader organization, and what their agenda is as it pertains to your team.
Thus, for each person on the org chart you want to identify:
- Their primary goal
- Their primary interest(s) in your group
- Who their primary contact on my team is
- The nature of the relationship
In the example above, you can see how the relationship between “my team” is set up to be a bit more adversarial with Bill, with Theresa it is likely to be the typical finance give & take, and with James things are likely to go well (note the colors).
This type of diagram can be tremendously helpful to set up early on and help you gain clarity on where you need to focus attention. For example, is Vanessa the best person to manage Bill if delaying release becomes necessary for your team?
ACTION STEP: Assess the situation
Asking the 5 questions above to your team and the relevant stakeholders should give you a fairly strong assessment of your situation.
However, there are two other things you will want to do:
- Ask the same 5 questions to external stakeholders (e.g. customers)
- Go down to the front lines and see what is going on for yourself
There is an old adage: when you are at the top of a tree full of monkeys, you look down and see nothing but smiles. When you are at the bottom of a tree full of monkeys you look up and see nothing but…
The point is that the more senior you are, the further you are from reality and the less likely anyone is to tell you what is actually going wrong.
This is compounded when you enter a new role and those reporting to you are at least a bit fearful of how they will measure up (and their need to reestablish their status with you).
ACTION STEP: Getting to the heart of what is going on
- Observe the interaction of your team with its customer. If your team writes software code, watch how they interact with the people who design and also use that code.
- Try and observe how whoever the firm interacts with its end customer (i.e. whoever is paying for the product/service). This could be accomplished by listening to support calls or going on a client visit.
The point of these exercises is to better understand what is actually going on in the company, what your customers want, and how your team can best deliver solutions.
Nothing builds your brand like delivering quick wins. A quick win does two things:
1) It makes your stakeholders feel heard
2) It delivers an immediate (and visible) benefit.
The first point about your stakeholders is particularly important. You may see all kinds of quick wins around you when you come into a new role: perhaps a process can be easily improved, for example.
The problem is the first set of quick wins need to be the ones that matter to your boss. He/she is the stakeholder that matters the most.
I have seen new leaders ratchet up a bunch of quick wins that only they cared about. They may have been important, but not to their bosses… big mistake.
ACTION STEP: Be clear on which quick wins to deliver
- Figure out the big wins on your boss’s radar that you can deliver
- Ensure that the wins you deliver are visible
Unfortunately, in the business world perception is more important than reality. Let me give a simple example.
Imagine you are brought in to run an inbound call center (i.e. customers call the agents). Agents frequently have youtube videos up between calls. Thus, anyone visiting the floor sees a bunch of people watching videos during the day. They believe the center is inefficient.
The reality is that your agents have 0-3 minutes while they wait for calls to come in, which is too little time to do any actual work.
What happens if you tell your staff to stop using youtube and perhaps watch training videos during their free time? The perception your boss and other stakeholders is likely to be that you have increased efficiency and have solved the issue. In fact, you’ve probably found an incremental benefit if anything… but the stakeholders feel heard.
The point is that you need to find wins that will be visible to others that make a difference, but most importantly you want your stakeholders to feel heard.
A few additional thoughts:
- Don’t trash the past. Ask how the group got to this point so that you don’t accidentally tear down something that was done for a reason.
- Make sure to connect with your new boss. This relationship will make or break your success. Try and match his/her style and expectations.
- Make sure to connect with your peers and direct reports. You would be surprised how they can influence your boss’s perception of you.
- Don’t approach your boss only with problems. Bring solutions and ask for guidance.
- Make sure your boss feels heard. Keep updating her on her priorities for you.
- Clarify timelines and expectations.
- Identify any “third rails” or other items that are particularly sensitive. (Peers can be great at helping with this.)
- Don’t surprise your boss. Share information early.
CREATING A TRANSITION STRATEGY
There are many other elements to creating a successful transition strategy. The key, of course, is to create a plan and stick to it even in the face of all the things that are likely coming up.
If you would like guidance in creating a transition strategy, please email me at [email protected]
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