Some companies are great at onboarding and integrating new employees, but most aren’t. Don’t rely on the company, human resources department, or your boss to help you onboard and integrate properly. They will likely do an excellent job at onboarding but will suck at the integration part. It is your life, job, career, and responsibility to take charge and ensure you are successful.
To be successful in a new job, you need to learn. You need to learn a lot. That requires a solid plan to learn in a structured manner. While learning, you can have an impact as quickly as possible.
Have the outline of your onboarding plan done even before you start. Split the first 100 days into phases with specific milestones so you can follow them easily and have smaller goals along the way that will keep you motivated once you hit them. What do you want to accomplish by the end of the first day, the first week, the second week, the first month, the second month, the third month, and the 100th day? How do you go about it?
1. Preparation is the key
Good preparation for a new role will significantly enhance your chance of success. Even better if you can have a mental break between your old and new job. It is a sort of forget-all-you-know situation. You do well when you start fresh and listen before making up your mind and acting. That works the best if you dissociate yourself from your past.
2. Set expectations even before you start
Negotiate with your new boss a learning period. Make sure you have enough time to talk to people and learn, not to get a specific task done, but to understand the organization you joined, get to know people, and build alliances.
3. Understand why you got the job
Chances are there were numerous candidates for the position, so why you? What is so special about you that got you selected? Ask those who interviewed you why they picked you, what they saw in you, and why they believe you can help the organization solve its problems. And what are those problems? You can then compare what you hear with your self-image and your strengths. It will help you understand your reason for being in the organization and outline how success will look.
4. Spend enough time with your boss
You need to build a strong relationship with your manager and have a mutual understanding of the issues and challenges the organization faces, how you fit in, what your goals are, and how you will be evaluated. You also need to get accustomed to the management style of your boss and the decision-making process.
5. Understand the scope of your role and how success looks like
This is primarily a conversation with your boss about the expectations from the role and how it will be evaluated. However, it is not only the boss. Other stakeholders have expectations that may differ from those of your manager. It is wise to understand all these often disparate expectations and needs, to clarify your true priorities early on before everyone gets disappointed, and before you are seen as a failure. It is also essential to agree with your manager and team on how you will work together, what information should be shared, and how to communicate, provide feedback, and raise issues.
6. Learn fast but be methodical
Have a learning plan and follow it rigorously. Before you start, you should build the plan and list the questions you need answers to. It will then allow you to hit the ground running. You will know who you need to talk to and what to ask. Don’t try shortcuts, and don’t pretend you know everything. Everyone understands and even expects that the new person will ask questions. Use that opportunity and ask—a lot. You need to diagnose the organization you are now part of, and you need to do it relatively quickly.
7. Start with people
You must learn a lot about the company, its products, processes, and people. Start with people. From day one, you need to start figuring out who the company’s key decision-makers and influencers are. You need to get to know your team and your peers. You need to build a rapport with your new boss. Once you know the people, you can dig into products, strategy, and history. You need to understand who does what. And finally, you need to find out how the work gets done and understand the processes. This includes how decisions are made. You may bring your flavor of how to do things, but it would be reckless to start making decisions without understanding what the team is used to. If you don’t like how things are done, fine, change it, but first understand.
8. Build trust
If you are getting a team to lead, you need to build rapport and trust. They will be unsettled and might be anxious that they are getting a new boss. This will impact their productivity and well-being. They may be skeptical about your approach and plans. You need to be transparent about your expectations, listen to insights and feedback from the team, and be honest about the worries and challenges you see. Admitting that you don’t know things while showing you are an expert in other areas will help build credibility, trust, and respect.
9. Build credibility
You have a limited timeframe in which you are given the benefit of the doubt. You need to use the first couple of weeks to identify how you can build your credibility and bring value and then a couple of months to execute and get some first wins that will solidify it.
10. Go for early wins
Early small successes and wins can help significantly to build your credibility. Something is seriously wrong if no one can come up with anything you have done after a year with the company. People start questioning your value. There is a bias called the Halo effect. First impression matters. The faster you can show that you know what you are doing, you are easy to work with, get things done, and care about others, the better. It will stick with you for years to come. If you introduce yourself as an incompetent jerk who doesn’t listen and can’t get anything done, then you will have a hard time changing that perception, and your ability to get things done will suffer.
11. Admit that you are learning
Don’t be afraid to admit that there are many things you don’t know. Yes, you need to build credibility quickly, but you won’t achieve that by pretending you know what’s going on. On the contrary, that will make you seem arrogant and unable to listen. You are new, so use the opportunity and ask as many questions as you can. People will be happy to show off their knowledge. You will earn respect by asking and attentively listening. Thoughtful and knowledgeable follow-up questions will increase your credibility.
12. Build relationships and alliances
Don’t rely on your boss or your team. Get to know people and build alliances with your peers and across departments and locations. You don’t know anyone and have no internal network to rely on for support when you start. You need to fix that fast. You are new, so it is natural you reach out, ask questions, and listen. Listen for how things work, what issues need to be solved, how you may help out, and who the people you are talking to are as human beings. If you are replacing someone, ask how your predecessor got things done and whether you should do something differently. Always also ask for suggestions about other people you should talk to. You will need the help and support of many people. Building alliances will allow you to influence even the parts of the organization not under your direct control. They will help you to get things done.
13. Help others through the change
It is not only you who is in transition. Your boss, your team, and other stakeholders are also in a transition as they just got you. They need to learn to work with you and figure out how you can help them and how their role may have changed. Any change in the organization means a temporary slip in performance and productivity. The faster you can help everyone get through the change, the faster the productivity picks up.
14. Keep calm and composed
There are lots of things to learn and do. Everything and everyone is new. Transitioning into a new role or a new company takes a considerable amount of effort and focus. It might be exciting, but it is also tiring. Use the plan you prepared to stay on course and pace yourself. Don’t try to work hundred hours a week to get everything done immediately. Take care of your well-being to keep your mental abilities at their best.
15. Have a risk mitigation plan
In The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins suggests you create a transition risk assessment. Identify the risks you will face when moving to the new role. Consider each major task you must complete during the first 100 days and the potential risks. For each risk, you then consider the likelihood of it happening and the impact it would have. It is going to give you a good feeling about your priorities and focus. Once done, develop mitigation strategies, starting with those highly likely with a significant impact.
Putting it all together
Starting a new job often brings a mix of excitement and anxiety. There are so many new things to learn, but there are also many new opportunities. To make sure you are set for success, don’t rely only on the company’s onboarding process. Take a proactive approach and prepare well, get to know your boss and set expectations, understand how success will look like, learn fast and methodically, start with people and build relationships and alliances, build trust and credibility by going for early wins, keep calm and composed, help others through the change, and have a risk mitigation plan.
What is your take on the topic? When was the last time you changed a job? How was your onboarding experience? Were you able to integrate fast with the team and be productive? What were the biggest issues during the onboarding process? What is the one thing you would recommend others to do when starting a new job?
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