“The actions you take during your first few months in a new role will largely determine whether you succeed or fail.” – Michael D. Watkins [The First 90 Days]
The initial months in any organization can be daunting – especially, a young analytics firm growing exponentially. BRIDGEi2i was about 50+ employee strong at the time I joined, and doubled within 6 months. I did not completely appreciate the phrase ‘drinking from a fire hose’ till I actually landed here. I am no management expert, but here is an humble attempt to articulate some learnings that have helped me hit the ground running in a rapidly expanding organization. Hope you find them helpful…
Know the business
“All things are ready, if our minds be so.” – William Shakespeare
The process of knowing the company you are about to join should start well before you actually land on the floor. In fact, in job interviews, the strongest candidates I have interviewed are the ones who have done preliminary research about the company. Understanding the products, services, and the business model will help you figure out how your role contributes to the company’s top and bottom-line. Explore the company website, read what the company is talking about, listen to what is talked about them on social forums (Glassdoor, Facebook, Twitter etc.), get in touch with the people in the company…stalk them on LinkedIn if you have to!
I was fortunate to have an intense orientation program when I joined BRIDGEi2i. But don’t stop at the formal sessions, meet people and know about the projects they are working on, understand the clients, get hands on any relevant document/collateral, read and listen as much as you can, and most importantly….ask plenty of questions!
Ask the right questions
“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” – Voltaire.
Questions reflect eagerness to learn, maturity, and above all it exudes humility. You will connect more with your peers and seniors if you follow the exploratory path rather than giving advice on issues and situations of which you do not have complete understanding.
Create a list of questions that would help you understand the past, present, and the future of the company. Also, identify the right people who will get you the answers. In BRIDGEi2i’s open culture, no one was out of reach for me – including the CEO.
Schedule a meeting with your immediate manager to discuss your role, the team, and the clients to seek clarity about your role and your boss’s priorities. By asking the right questions with an open mind, you can get a sense of the history, the context, and also open a window to future opportunities.
Understand the culture
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker
Gauging the cultural nuances of an organization is in most cases as critical to your success as understanding the business and job responsibilities. One common mistake to be avoided in the initial days, is making quick judgements about the company or the co-workers. One shouldn’t assume that the new company culture is the same as the last one. For students fresh out of college, it is even more important to understand and adapt yourself to a different corporate culture.
By understanding the company’s cultural undercurrents, you will be better equipped to adapt to it and accelerate your growth.
It’s OK to feel vulnerable
“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” – Brené Brown (TED Talk)
Before accepting the job offer, I had a fairly good understanding of what was expected of me, and the skills I was going to bring to the table. At least, that is what I thought… However, within a few days I realized how less I knew about the organization, the role, the skills required, and the challenges.
After a few days of insecurity and introspection, I realized that this vulnerability is a part of the transition. It is not a reflection of my incompetence. Once you realize that the skills from your past job or college may not be enough to succeed in your current role, you will be better prepared to tackle the challenge ahead of you.
Don’t ask for a ‘job description’, create one!
“Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ‘em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt
One of the many perks of working with a young and growing organization is there are no (organizational) walls and hierarchy is virtually non-existent. This gives you opportunities to identify several projects and initiatives through which you can get immediately noticed.
This does not imply that you disregard your core job and go on a wild goose chase. In fact, even before you plunge into any new assignment, you must have a conversation with your manager to discuss the criteria and metrics for your performance evaluation.
Having understood the core expectations from your job, you then can carve your own niche by quickly assessing opportunities outside your daily job. The scope could be anything from helping another team on a tight deadline client deliverable, to creating content for an internal training.
The eagerness to contribute to the company’s success in whatever way possible and the willingness to extend genuine help to your colleagues, will create a lasting impression within the company.
Planning for Success
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” ― Dwight D. Eisenhower
While in a start-up-like environment it is easy to get caught in the frenzy, you must take a step back and prioritize activities that are most critical to your and the organization’s success.
Here’s how you start creating a plan – WRITE IT DOWN! Making ‘mental notes’ is not enough. It was after two weeks into the job that I started creating my 90-day plan. The plan itself was not very complex. It was simple bullet points in my notepad. I clearly prioritized the tasks and the expected outcomes.
Given that I had limited visibility of the organization in the initial weeks, I kept the plan very nimble. I had broken up the 90-day plan in blocks of (roughly) 30 days. This really helped me to have realistic goals. While the plan itself was more static, it required continuous ‘planning’ hat helped me keep on-track to achieve my goals. Every plan needs smart planning!
Keep your boss involved and get his/her buy-in at every stage. By doing this, you can ensure that the goals are aligned to your boss’s and the company’s priorities and the expected results and timelines are realistic. It will also help you demonstrate your progress regularly and adjust the course if needed.
Secure Early wins
“Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.” – Jonathan Kozol
Nothing succeeds like success! Early wins in first 3 months of your job instantly builds personal credibility. It creates your image as someone who is willing to learn quickly and go out on a limb to contribute to the company’s success.
However, you must be cautious of the battles you choose. You are unlikely to achieve a dramatic impact on the company’s performance in the initial few weeks. But you can score modest victories. For example, an analyst can take lead in developing an interactive dashboard for a benchmarking project which reduces turnaround time and improves user experience; or a project manager can successfully lead and deliver a firefighting assignment for a demanding client.
The initiatives you pick up must be in-line with your 90-day plan. You do not want to invest your time and energy in low-hanging fruits that really will not have a longer shelf-life (pun intended!).
For better or worse, the first few weeks of your job creates your personal brand within the organization. In the initial days, you are being sized up by your co-workers and your seniors. Those perceptions will have disproportionate impact on how people think of you. So do all that you can to create a favorable launching pad for yourself for the rest of your tenure….all the best!