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Starting fast in a new role

Subscribe to Leadership Consulting 3/30/2015 Bonnie W. Gwin

Starting fast in a new role

Somehow, the first 90 days have come to be seen as the make-or-break period for getting off to a good start in a new job. After all, three months is the length of a business quarter, and most of us are accustomed to quarterly results. And it is often said that people who derail tend to do so in their first three months.

Certainly, the first 90 days at your new company are important, but you shouldn’t let them crowd out the bigger picture. In fact, if you wait until the first 90 days to begin laying the groundwork for success, you may be too late. And if you don’t devote at least as much attention to the remainder of your first year as you do to your early days, you may get out of the gate fast, but fade badly down the backstretch. Whether you are a newly appointed CEO, C-level executive, or other senior executive coming to a new company, you might more productively think in terms of three distinct and critical time periods:

  1. The 30 Days Before You Join the Company

    No doubt, before accepting an offer, you did your due diligence on the company – its financials, strategy, business prospects, and culture. And in the hiring process you likely gained at least some sense of a few of the personalities you will work with. But you shouldn’t leave it at that. Now is the time to move past assessment of the company to genuine acquaintance with it. Circumstances permitting, you should begin reaching out to key stakeholders as appropriate — your boss (the Board, in the case of a new CEO), members of your team, your predecessor if possible, and others who might be critical to the success of the company and you.

    Your goal at this stage is to begin building relationships with key players and to tap into the psyche of the company. How are things really done there? The company’s formal systems are easily learned, but the informal practices – of making decisions, winning buy-in, wielding influence – require real insight from knowledgeable insiders. Far better to gain it early and at no cost than to gain it later from possibly bitter experience. And the best place to gain it is in informal settings – over dinner or coffee, for example. You should also probe for the sensitivities you will need to navigate – a rival who wanted your job, people who resisted your appointment, factions that impede alignment.

    If circumstances preclude face-to-face encounters, you should learn as much as you can through additional research on the company and its people. Work the phone, talk to analysts who cover the industry, tap your personal network for knowledge. And get those one-on-one meetings on the calendar for your first 30 days.

  2. The First 30 Days on the Job

    Day One on the job is when you literally become visible — and audible — in the organization. Consider carefully the tone you want to establish. If you’ve done your homework on the culture and personnel, you can tailor aspects of your leadership style from the outset – either in the interests of achieving the right fit or of shaking things up, if necessary.

    Now is also the time to really get to know the members of your team – their personalities, what motivates them, their work styles – through formal meetings and informal encounters. CEOs and other senior executives will also begin to consider precisely who they want on their team, but they will proceed with caution about making changes right away. You should also get a detailed grasp of what your boss expects from you and begin to develop plans for delivering it.

    Begin developing, also, the key messages you will eventually want to communicate, how, and to whom. Beware, however, of articulating a grand strategy or vision in the first days of your tenure – the organization at large or your team is unlikely to regard you as sufficiently knowledgeable or credible at that point. When Lou Gertsner first took over at IBM he famously said of the then-troubled company, “The last thing IBM needs right now is a vision.”

  3. The Next 11 Months

    Begin by working backwards from the end of your first year: what two or three major things do you want to have achieved by then? Once you have set those priorities you can then build a plan — including timing, resources, and metrics — to achieve them. If the company is in crisis, then you will need to move as quickly as possible on setting priorities, communicating them, and executing. But in every case, the enemy is time. If you neglect to set priorities reasonably early, you will likely find yourself consumed by details, losing focus and eventually running out of time to achieve things of real substance.

    The key, from the time you accept an offer to the end of the first year, is to balance deliverables with deliberation. Any transition to a new position of leadership entails an inherent tension. On the one hand, you want to make a major impact early on. On the other hand, in order to succeed, you must take time to cultivate colleagues, mesh with or influence the culture, and spend time on strategic assessment and reflection. If you focus on internal assimilation, you risk losing business credibility. If you focus on bold business moves, you risk becoming isolated and ineffective. But as a result of having collected relevant data and connected with key constituents during the 30 days before you begin the job and using the information to drive team selection and formation in subsequent days, you should be able to set business objectives that your team will align around and pursue energetically.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn as part of its “LinkedIn Influencers” series. For more articles by this author, follow her on LinkedIn by clicking here.

Bonnie W. Gwin Vice Chairman +1 212 867 9876

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