10 Ways to Ace Your First 100 Days on the Job

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Businesswoman achieving successWhat you do during the first 100 days in a new job is crucial to your long-term success, whether you’re an employee or the U.S. President. You have only one chance to make a great first impression, and you want to lay the foundation for achievements down the road. Here are 10 steps you can take to make these early days a success. I also spoke with Paul Wolfe, SVP of Human Resources at Indeed, to gain his perspective.

1. Begin before day one to give yourself a head start:

  • Build relationships with key stakeholders; set up short introductory “get to know you” calls.
  • Learn as much as you can about your new employer – how things are organized, who does what, the jargon that’s used and so forth.
  • Gain cooperation from the people in your life so that you’ll have the time and space to work really hard in those first 100 days and show your employer what you’re capable of.
  • Conduct a SWOT analysis on yourself (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). First list out the strengths and weaknesses you bring to the role. Then identify opportunities for success by playing to those strengths and avoiding or mitigating weaknesses. Lastly identify threats to your success and ways to steer clear.

Wolfe agrees, and suggests being “as true and honest with yourself as possible in the SWOT analysis” to get the most benefit. Wolfe also recommends looking at the social media posts of organizational leaders to understand what’s important to them, and taking courses to close any gaps before day one.

2. Begin your “real job” on day one. Your real job is the job we all have: to please your boss. If your boss isn’t happy with your performance, you won’t be in that role very long no matter how well you or others think you’re doing. In the first week:

  • Talk to your boss about their expectations (if you didn’t do so before you accepted the offer) including what success looks like a year from now.
  • Begin managing expectations via consistent communication. Schedule super-organized status meetings with your boss once a week, even if just for 20 minutes. To prepare for these meetings, do what I suggest for my clients; create a spreadsheet that categorizes your work into: a) what you’ve accomplished, b) what you’re working on that’s on schedule, c) what you’re working on that’s not on schedule (and how to fix), and d) what’s on hold due to other priorities.

Wolfe agrees and recounts how one of his reports successfully managed expectations by setting up two short twice-weekly meetings with him every Monday and Friday.

3. Build Positive Relationships: From my experience, at least 50% of career success is tied to having good workplace relationships (for some jobs it’s more like 90%). Commit to meeting as many people as possible in your first 30 days: those above your level, your peers, and those below your level. Plan on setting up lots of 20 minute virtual coffees.

As you do so, put together a Stakeholder Map; write down all the stakeholders in your work. By “stakeholders” I mean anyone who depends on you for their success, or who you depend on for your success.

Review this map to identify opportunities for improvement in a relationship. Avoiding people you don’t get along with is part of human nature, but avoidance may or may not be best for your career. Going forward, review your Stakeholder Map once a quarter to be sure your relationships are as strong as possible.

Wolfe instituted his own version of a Stakeholder Map. He and his team created a “LookBook,” essentially an Excel spreadsheet with pictures of employees, their region, what team they’re on and their role.

As you build relationships, look for potential allies. Listen to the gossip so you can be informed, but avoid contributing to it (you don’t understand the politics well enough yet).

If you manage a team, meet all your direct reports in the first 30 days. Hear about their ideas for moving forward and how you can best help them to be successful. Keep an open mind about the potential contributions of each individual, regardless of what you may hear elsewhere.

4. Be cautious in the first 30 days; observe and learn. It’s tempting to make quick judgements about what should or shouldn’t be done based on your prior career success. Avoid making judgements too quickly, however. Maybe they tried your idea already and it didn’t work, or your idea is politically impossible or unfeasible because of something you’ve yet to understand about the business.

Says Wolfe: “When something is done a certain way, don’t judge. Instead ask questions to seek understanding. Don’t assume it’s wrong. I find that with new hires, ‘you shouldn’t do it that way’ turns people off. Become part of the team. Respect the work that’s been done to get them there.”

5. Look for quick, easy wins in the first 30 days. Add value wherever you can in non-controversial ways. One client, in the third week of her new role as a Director of Business Development, facilitated her team’s access to information that helped with the sales process. Her move was much appreciated; it was easily done, yet no one had thought to do it before.

Wolfe adds: “The low hanging fruit builds credibility” crucial to gaining support for your bigger ideas down the road.

6. Identify opportunities to lead in the longer term: Think about leadership as 1) having a vision for a better way, 2) influencing others to get on board with this vision, and then 3) showing results. With this definition, you can lead from any organizational level. You don’t need a team to lead. In the first 30 days keep an eye out for opportunities to lead without yet acting on them. In general, employees who show leadership are more likely to be promoted and less likely to be let go.

7. Day 30: share your 6-12 month plan for success with your boss. Incorporate your boss’ expectations, the leadership opportunities and performance gaps that you’ve identified, and specific, time-bound milestones.

8. Day 60: implement a team re-organization if applicable. By month two you should have enough experience-based “data” to correctly evaluate your team. You should also be well on your way to hiring for any gaps.

9. By day 100, achieve at least two significant wins. Wolfe says that achieving a couple of the major milestones in the plan you shared with your boss is the minimum for you to be considered successful in your first 100 days.

10. Adapt your approach when working virtually. Wolfe makes some good points about adapting to our new virtual world. “You’ve got to be a little bit more intentional about trying to orchestrate those random meetings and conversations” that are crucial to building productive relationships and moving projects forward. To make these conversations happen, Wolfe schedules regular meetings with HR colleagues who don’t report to him, just to chat.

Another important point that Wolfe raises: When you’re onsite, you have a lot of time to decompress and think while walking to or from meetings. Since travel-time doesn’t apply in a virtual environment, Wolfe says to consider scheduling back-to-back half-hour meetings for 25 minutes each, for example.

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