You’re starting a new role. How exciting! Whether you know it or not, your first 90 days can be make or break for you. I have heard at least one leadership development guru refer to these 90 days as “your battle against misunderstanding.” This is the time when you are learning your job, but not *just* your job. If you’re smart, you are also learning new rules, new people, and a new culture; in other words, the tribal knowledge you will need to really rock your new role.
When you first get on the ground in a new team or organization, you don’t understand the “how” of getting things done, no matter how good you are and no matter how much homework you do beforehand. The critical thing to understand, though, is the “how” is equally important to the “what.” So whatever you do, resist the urge to dive in headfirst in your enthusiasm to make an impact. You need to learn about the culture of your new workplace first; if you jump in too fast, you’ll risk making the wrong kind of impact. So, exercise restraint, have a plan for figuring out the new culture, and work your plan.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a series of posts on how to kick butt in your new job.* Let’s start by getting the icky stuff out of the way – the rookie mistakes you want to avoid when you are just starting out. Here we go, the greatest hits list of “don’ts”:
- Don’t fail to have a game plan for your first 90 days.If you show up to your new role without a game plan, you waste the best opportunity you’ll have to learn. At no other time will people be so willing to share information with you, as tolerant of your newbie questions, or as forgiving of repeating over and over again the explanation they just gave you yesterday (and the day before). People are especially willing to share the good stuff before you’ve settled into habits and relationships (weird, I know). Have a game plan so you can maximize your learning, make the right impression, and connect with the people who can be really helpful down the road. (More to come on developing your game plan in my next post on the topic of rocking your new job.)
- Don’t arrive with “The Answer.”A lot of newer leaders show up and push for change right away, mistakenly thinking this is the best way to show their value and demonstrate they were a good hire. This can backfire and earn you enemies, undermine your credibility, and even result in costly mistakes for the organization. Resist the compulsive urge to take action and, instead, study your environment before digging in. Take the time to learn how decisions are made in general and the history of the particular areas you are looking at. Have some understanding of who is personally invested in the status quo, the requirements and drivers behind the status quo, and the operational, financial, and people impacts before pushing for change.
- Don’t trash existing systems or policies right away.This mistake is closely related to Mistake #2 but bears mentioning in its own right just for the sheer number of people, even at fairly senior levels, who screw it up. You don’t understand the history and context for what you are seeing yet; wait until you do before you start criticizing the past. You’ll have plenty of time to trash what you’re seeing later…right before you start fixing it.
- Don’t eat lunch alone.Yes, I know you want to catch up on background reading about your new company or group (or, ahem, Facebook) and this is definitely important…I get it! It’s just that it’s too early to honor your inner recluse. If you start off eating alone, people will get the idea you are anti-social and don’t want to get to know them. So, if you get asked to lunch, do your best to say, “Yes!” Heck, you might even make some new friends. If you know you are someone who needs more downtime, plan for it in advance by building in breathing room in your evenings and weekends during your first month.
- Don’t wait for your boss to set up meetings with you.Are you avoiding grabbing a spot on the calendar with your boss “out of respect for her time” or because you think she knows better than you do when the right time is to connect? At work, absence does not make the heart grow fonder. At best, absence makes the boss forget to think about you. (Hello-not desirable.) At worst, well, let’s just not go there.
- Don’t fail to communicate your plan and process to your boss. Communicating your plan and process to your boss creates some breathing room for you while you are in learning mode. Communication leads to clarity, which leads to necessary learning and course correction, which leads to you taking the right actions. Also, communicating regularly reduces the chances your boss will forget to think about you (see Mistake #5 above).
- Don’t fail to understand the larger context in which your work takes place.Don’t get tunnel vision and make the mistake of thinking you are the center of the universe. I mean, I suppose you might be, but probably not.
- Don’t put off meeting with key stakeholders.Don’t hang back! I see this impulse in so many new hires. New employees are often afraid they don’t have anything to say and that if they do speak, they will seem terribly daft, so they put off meeting with key connections. But if you wait for a day when you will “know more” or “have something important to report,” you won’t gain access to the critical information you need in your first 90 days. These are the meetings that will help you understand why things are the way they are and lay the foundation for your work. Go in with a solid learning plan and you will have plenty to cover in early meetings with this audience (more on how to do this in my posts to come over the next few weeks).
- Complaining. Don’t do it!
- Gossiping. Don’t do it!
In my next post, I’ll share the five simple things you can do to have a great relationship with your new boss. What are some other rookie mistakes you’ve seen? I’d love to hear from you!
* Michael D. Watkins’ The First 90 Days is an indispensable resource and I borrowed from it in writing this series.