Getting a Fast Start in a New Role

By Mitch Wienick, President, Kelleher Associates, LLC

At Kelleher Associates, we are always excited and proud when one of our clients secures a position that is an outstanding fit and comes with a strong compensation and benefits package, often one that we have helped the client negotiate. But, from our vantage point, acceptance of the offer is not the end of our client process. Assuming our client doesn’t have to start in the new role immediately (and though it’s rare, it does happen), we arrange to spend additional time with our newly landed client to review four key principles we believe are crucial to significantly raising her chances of success in the role. This is especially important because a large majority of our clients haven’t begun a new job in years and haven’t had to think through and act on what such a start entails.

The first principle is to ensure there is synchrony between our client and her supervisor on key priorities and deliverables, and on separating the important from the urgent for the first 6 to 12 months on the job. It’s our view that our client’s relationship with her boss is overwhelmingly the most important success factor when starting in a new position. Making sure there is a clear understanding of expectations at the start of the relationship, the more likely our client will be to perform at or better than the desired level. This principle is one we can’t stress enough and it’s too often overlooked or downplayed.

The second principle is to encourage our clients to accelerate their learning curve. In any new role, there are a number of simultaneous moving parts – the role itself may be a new one; the company, culture, and people will be new; the challenges and projects are likely, at least in part, to be new and unique; and the industry dynamics are likely to be new, too. So, mastering all of this as quickly as possible raises the chance of a new hire making a series of meaningful contributions to the new employer.

How do you this? There are no magic techniques. We urge clients to read key documents (both paper and electronic); learn about competitors and industry structure; familiarize themselves with projects, proposals and initiatives; meet with employees, customers, suppliers, service providers, and consultants; visit facilities and plants; ask questions and, most of all, listen, listen, and listen some more.

The third principle is to secure some initial wins to build personal credibility. In the early going, these wins don’t have to be outsized. Singles are just as good as home runs when you start. Simple actions go a long way – acknowledging good work and giving credit to others, carefully listening, doing something very visible in terms of organizational structure, adjusting office space or changing infrastructure, eliminating logjams and clutter, being responsive, showing confidence and optimism, demonstrating expertise, repairing or building intercompany bridges, having a physical presence in both expected and unexpected places, revealing the personal side of yourself and discussing how you like to operate and have others interact with you, and genuinely showing interest in others and their ideas.  These are just some of the things you can do to garner those early wins.

The fourth and final principle is to understand and master the complex set of relationships that exist within organizations. Who are the real performers, the “go to” people, and to whom are they connected? What coalitions exist in the new organization; where do the rivalries and frictions lay, and which alliances are temporary and likely to shift? Which people are guided and supported by a more mature and experienced or influential person, and who are those mentors and protectors? How do you break into the favored groups and why are they favored? What are the “third rail” issues that must be avoided, at least initially? What are the general and specific organizational and cultural protocols and beliefs? And, to help you break through this sometimes dense organizational mist, who can play the dual role of organizational scout and Rosetta Stone for you?

In the end, each of our clients will have to perform over the long term to be successful in their roles. Heeding these four principles in the early stages of a new employment situation substantially raises the probability of on-the-job success and satisfaction for any new employee.