Your first day in your new job is approaching. With a mix of excitement and doubts, you wonder what’s in store for you. Fortunately you have a plan to make sure you make the right impression, right from the beginning. You have, haven’t you?

The first 3 months make or break a reputation and the chances for future success. Without a plan, you’re more likely to miss out on strategic opportunities, only to rush into decisions you will regret later.

The formula is simple. Sticking to it is less easy:

  1. Observe, listen and learn
  2. Build strong relationships at all levels
  3. Balance quick wins with strategic planning

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Observe, listen and learn.

It should sound obvious, especially for a leader in a new role. Yet it rarely happens.

Picture this: you’re a hunter in country A where pigeons are game and very tasty. You’re hired to hunt in country Z. You see a pigeon, you shoot, right? You’ve just shot the carrier pigeon of your new country. Hopefully it wasn’t carrying your bonus.

We are eager to learn about what we know we don’t know, but our biggest mistakes come from what we don’t know we don’t know, but thought we did.

Ask about things you don’t know, but tread carefully when you think you know: observe and listen instead of assuming.

The hunter wanted to shoot first to demonstrate his skills. There is palpable pressure and you are eager to show what you can do. Remember that everybody will assume you have the skills required. They are worried about your personality more than your competences. So listening is the best way to learn, but it is also the simplest way to gain trust and avoid blunders.

Build relationships

Possibly the most important thing you need to do in your first 100 days. Understand what makes people around you tick, their challenges and how you can help them achieve their own goals.

When your projects go wrong (and some will), it is the quality of your relationships that makes the difference.

Upwards: First, how do they perceive your area and your role, what happened before and what do they expect? Second, what are their situations: your real role should be to help your boss solve her problems, not to ‘just do your job’.

Your clients: what do they want, what do they need and what are you delivering to them? If they know you care, and if they see you as a real business partner, your life will be so much easier.

Your team: That would take few posts to cover, but again, focus on what makes your direct reports tick, how do they perceive the situation, how can you help them help you. If you manage other managers, you need to take the pulse of all the different levels: mainly of those who do the work. Don’t rely solely on your direct reports' view of the world. You need to know what is really happening, and if you fail to build trust now, it is unlikely to come later. You will be cut off from reality and possibly won’t even realise. Be humble, book time with different people and listen, listen and listen, and whatever you do, don’t make promises!

The influencers: As an outsider it can take time to find out who has power beyond hierarchical lines. Don’t underestimate grey eminences, pulling strings behind the scenes. They will make up their minds about you before you even know who they are, so it’s just a reminder to stay on your toes with everyone.

Quick wins and strategic planning

Very well you might think, but you’re also expected to deliver. It will boost your self-confidence, your boss will relax as you’ve demonstrated she has made the right decision by hiring you. Everybody will be much happier and more relaxed.

Good news: everybody wants you to succeed. So you have a strong hand and a fresh perspective on old problems. The only trick is to pick the right thing to deliver. My tip is to look for the simple, visible problems. With the accent is on simple. Something purely tactical, don’t be greedy, delivering a quick win will give you the leverage to push those big strategic changes when you need to.

Near month 3, when you get a good understanding of what your management expect you to do, you can consolidate a strategic vision for your team or department. Communicate it clearly and explain it repeatedly. Be on the outlook for ideas that would help you fulfil this vision. Pick your teams brains at all levels, get things moving, and don’t commit until you have heard all the ideas.

Month by month:

  • Month 1: Refrain, restrain, abstain … any decision in this month is probably rushed. Clarify your role, your boss’s expectations, your customers burning needs desires, your team situation. Hear everybody from CEO to intern. Understand the systems and your customers needs. Identify tactical quick wins. Start taking notes for future strategic plans.
  • Month 2: Pressure for delivery increases, start flexing your muscles with one or two quick wins. Start digging where you see strategic potential but stay clear from any great plan. Keep building relationships at all levels. Your teams will have decided to trust you or not, be open with them, explain what you do and where you want the team to go.
  • Month 3: You have a lot of data and ideas, you’ve been planning. Hopefully the quick wins are ticking along, now is the time to get feedback on your more strategic ideas and to listen to reactions. Keep building partnerships with your customers, trust with your team, and tight relationships with your bosses.

After month 3, you should have build a sound reputation for yourself and be ready for the challenges ahead. That was the first chapter and the pace is now set for your future in this role. Of course you can at anytime turn things around one way or the other, but making a good start is an enormous advantage.

Companies are usually clueless as to how to help you reach your full potential in the first few months. So make sure you get the support you need. A mentor or a coach, internally or externally, can help you follow your own plan. If you can’t, try to discuss your progress in your new job with someone you trust. It will help you recognise unexpected options and avoid traps on your way.

I would love to hear about you, what tricks and tips do you have to make the most of your first 100 days?

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Plan for success in your new role: 100 days to impress
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