6 Traps Of The First 100 Days In A New Job

The action you take in the first 100 days of a new job will largely determine whether you will have a successful tenure or not. The first months are for building a strong foundation. If you don’t do that, your whole future in the role will be standing on shaky grounds.

In The First 90 Days, Michael Watkins points to a study of 580 leaders conducted jointly by Genesis Advisers, Harvard Business Review, and the International Institute of Management Development. The participants had, on average, 18.2 years of professional experience. During that time, they were promoted 4.1 times and joined new companies 3.5 times. Moreover, they moved across geographies, business units, and functions. On average, there were 13.5 major transitions these leaders went through. That is a lot of fresh starts and transitions. And then you have all the transitions you don’t know are happening, like getting more responsibilities or new projects without corresponding changes in your title, restructuring, or getting a new team or boss. Successful careers are about change and about constantly starting something new and transitioning. It makes sense to have a plan.

Getting a promotion or joining a new company means that those who give you the opportunity expect you to bring some value. Your goal is to get to the point where you bring more value than you consume from the organization as quickly as possible. Watkins notes that based on estimates from more than 200 CEOs and presidents of various companies, it takes, on average, six months for a midlevel leader to reach this break-even point. This may be faster if you are coming into a mess and can be slower, a year or longer, if you are joining an already well-working and successful company.

Why the first 100 days?

Whether you set the number to 100, 90, or 30, it is an arbitrary timeline. It has no special significance aside from the fact that it gives you a goal and a deadline. It keeps you focused. It helps you to draft your agenda, plan, and execute.

The first time the US president mentioned “the first 100 days” as something special was during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected in the middle of a great depression. He took charge quickly and, in the first 100 days, made sweeping and groundbreaking legislation for farmers, homeowners, and the unemployed. Not to mention ending prohibition. Roosevelt passed 76 laws in his first 100 days. He introduced the so-called New Deal, a set of programs focused on relief for the unemployed and poor, recovery of the economy, and reform of the financial system.

Since then, “the first 100 days” have become a thing. The US presidents are judged by the scope of the changes they introduce. Well, your first 100 days at a new job should be judged by the scope of what you learned and how well you integrated into the organization. You are not a US president, and the last thing you want is to step in and start making changes without understanding where you are and what you are doing. Keep in mind that the US presidents have a huge team of people behind them who work on policies they want to introduce well before the newly minted president steps into the White House.

As Roselinde Torres and Peter Tollman, senior partners at The Boston Consulting Group, put it, the most dangerous myth regarding the onboarding of new CEOs is that their worth should be judged by the changes they introduce in the first 100 days. According to Torres and Tollman, new CEOs need to focus on job preparation through research, consultation, and introspection. They need to listen, seek impartial counsel, and build a strong team before making sweeping changes to the business.

Traps and pitfalls

It is too easy to make a mess of things before you even get settled in. There are various pitfalls and traps to avoid. Here are the six most prominent.

  1. Doing the same things you have done before – only because something worked for you at one company doesn’t mean it will work for you in the new one. Many successes you had in the past were, to some extent, caused by the environment and the people around you. Now you are elsewhere, surrounded by different people. You may think about trying some new tricks.
  2. Having the answer to everything – it is tempting to look at every problem you encounter through the lenses of your previous experience and suggest and implement solutions that worked for you in the past. The chances are good that there are nuances you may be missing, and pushing your way to solve the problem without listening to the team working on it till now is foolish. It only alienates everyone, and you won’t get the support you need to get things done.
  3. Taking action too soon – yes, you want to show that you can get things done, have some quick wins, and be seen as decisive and hard-working. Taking action without analyzing what needs to be done won’t accomplish that. You won’t build respect and credibility. You will appear arrogant and ignorant. Take your time, listen first, and only when you understand what’s going on, take action.
  4. Setting unrealistic expectations – you want to prove you can do better than your predecessor. So you set crazy objectives and unrealistic timelines for yourself and your team. You set yourself up for failure. You disappoint your boss and alienate your team.
  5. Trying to do too much simultaneously – with your fresh view of the organization you joined, you may see many things that could be improved. So you start multiple initiatives to tackle all of them at the same time. And you most likely fail at most of them. Yes, there might be many things you could work on but make sure you prioritize. Unless there is an existential emergency for the organization, you can create a roadmap for addressing these issues step by step to avoid overwhelming and confusing the organization.
  6. Learning the wrong things – there are so many things to learn when you join a new company. So once again, you need to prioritize. Often people dive into the technical aspects of the jobs, learning the products, markets, and tools used by the team, and forget about the cultural aspects. Your success, especially in any leadership role, depends on your ability to influence and work with others. You must prioritize getting to know the key stakeholders you will be interacting with, learning about the culture and how things are done, understanding the various coalitions, and how information spreads. You need to build relationships with your boss, team, peers within and without the organization, and other people important for your ability to get things done.

Putting it all together

Change is part of life. Changing jobs, moving between companies, or being promoted is part of the work-life. You will potentially have tens of transitions into new roles and companies during your career, and learning how to do them correctly is worthwhile. The way you spend your first 100 days in your new job will impact your long-term success with the company.

Be alert and don’t get caught in some of the most frequent pitfalls like doing things the way you have always done, not listening, trying to take action too quickly without understanding the environment, learning the wrong things, setting unrealistic expectations, or trying to do too many things in parallel. A thoughtful, well-planned approach will pay dividends.


What is your take on the topic? What are the biggest pitfalls when joining a new organization? Do you have an experience with situations when your first 100 days went exceptionally well or exceptionally badly? How important are the first 100 days in a new job anyway?

Photo: Skitterphoto / Pixabay.com

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Quiet Success by Tomas Kucera


Categories: Career, Leadership

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