How can I best succeed in my new job and make a good first impression?

Elaine Varelas provides guidance on starting smart and strong in a new role.

Q.  I’m starting a new job soon in a more senior role than I’m used to. I read somewhere that you don’t want to be too overzealous in your first couple of months. That you should balance learning with what you already know to not seem too overconfident, if that makes sense? How do I balance doing a great job with not shining too bright at the very beginning of a new role?

A. Congratulations on the new job! One book that offers great advice and guidance is The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, which helps readers with challenges they may have with transitioning to a new job and provides tools and ideas about how to successfully approach those critical first 90 days. Start with the person you report to and find out what the success metrics are for that person. What do they want to see when you have your first performance review? What are their highest priorities? What were the biggest disappointments with the person before you? What’s the working budget? Who do you need to talk to? Whose opinion matters to your boss? Gather their insights and what they see as strengths and opportunities for the team. And then let them know you’ll find out what’s real and report back to them with a written plan, after you know what your team is really made up of.

Often skilled politicians will conduct a “listening tour” (even if they already know what they want to do). Take the initiative to meet with everyone who reports to you and those groups your team partners with or supports. And don’t be an elitist. Administrative employees, schedulers, part-time staff – remember that everyone can impact your success or failure. Get a sense of what the situation currently is at the organization and the challenges that employees currently face.

During your onboarding, have a positive attitude, pay attention, and most importantly, ask questions. Learn and observe as much as you can during those initial weeks and take notes on the areas where you think that you can make a positive difference. Those first meetings are not the time to throw out solutions you have for every situation that may come up, but what you want to be able to do is be empathetic, show that you listen well, show that you can ask good questions, and are very interested in their assessment of the organization. Ask about solutions they have tried, or whether they feel confident making suggestions. Focus on relationship building, which will help create collaborative connections with your new colleagues. A great question for your new reports is, “How do I get the best from you?”  Often managers talk about their style, but asking how your people want to be managed, and how they can give you their best, which is what you want, shows you know they are important to you.

Unless you are the CEO, no one wants to wait 90 days for your plan, so go back to your manager within 30 days with a written report on themes and patterns from your listening tour.  Provide the list of people and titles of those you met with, but not next to any comments. Before you list all the changes you want to make, gain agreement on the themes and patterns.  See if your manager has different perceptions. Test out some of your ideas and ask what has been successful in the past and what has proven more difficult to make happen.   

Things may have changed, even in your first 30 days. Find a sore spot your boss wants fixed. Get a solid definition of what is “fast” and what is “slow”. Your former organization may have used calendars when your new organization uses stop watches. Make sure you have an understanding of the new culture and what matters most. Assess and focus on what your boss thinks are great ideas that they'd like to see you work on sooner rather than later.

Take the time and effort to develop strong relationships before you start throwing out suggestions on how to reorganize the entire organization and make yourself both a valued colleague, a valued direct report, and an asset to the entire organization.