Your first day in a new organization or department is exciting. There’s great potential for growth. There are many new faces and names to learn. There are also new commutes, new security procedures and more. On-boarding new employees successfully is a practice that some companies have mastered, especially for new graduates. What about a leader who is joining an organization?
If you’re fortunate, you will have a guide to help you learn and adjust to the new department. What if you don’t have that support? The answer is an self-directed on-boarding process. This approach is an excellent way to learn a new organization. Over a few days, you will learn the basics of a new organization. By developing your knowledge and relationships, you will be able to become productive in the new organization more quickly.
When To Onboard Yourself
There are several situations where you will need to be your own guide. If any of the below scenarios sound familiar, you can use this self on-boarding strategy with good results.
1. Project Manager Starting A Brand New Project
. You are assigned to a new project with people and processes that are completely new to you. For example, you may have a strong background in Oracle database projects. However, your organization may ask you to to lead a project to build an customized database from scratch. Note: If your current project involves many of the same players as previous projects, remember that some of your team members may be new. In that case, you can use the 5 day strategy to help them get started.
2. Newly Promoted Leader
Congratulations! You have been promoted! Once you finish celebrating, you will learn that you have a great deal of work ahead of you. Even if you are promoted within the same organization, new leaders face new challenges and goals that may be completely different from their previous role. (Tip: Make sure you avoid these bad habits that quietly kill promotions)
3. New Volunteer Leader.
Joining a volunteer organization, especially as a leader, is an excellent way to grow yourself while improving the community. However, many community organizations have limited staff. As a result, new leaders need to bring their own drive to the table, rather than dragging staff away from their core responsibilities.
4. Joining A Rapid Growth Organization.
In a high growth organization, there are regular promotions, new departments and new offices being opened. In this situation, it is unlikely you will be supported. Instead, you will be expected to “hit the ground running” and come up with your own approach.
The above examples are some of the situations where you will be called upon to be your own guide to a new organization.
Onboard Yourself In 5 Days
Over the space of a single week, you can onboard yourself successfully. This program assumes you have at least some discretion on how you use your first few days. Based on my experience and observation, most new hires have significant time on their hands when they first get started. Instead of waiting for an assignment to be handed to you, use this approach to get started. For those under an extreme time crunch, you can compress this program into a single day (allocate 1-2 hours per day).
Day 1: Logistics & Background Reading
The first day in a new role is exciting! Use these tips to make the most of your first few hours on the role.
- Verify Access. Check that you have all the access and permissions you need (e.g. security card, passwords, user accounts).
- Test Technology. Experiment with your assigned technology (e.g. send yourself a test email, verify access to collaboration tools such as Microsoft Sharepoint or Slack)
- Complete Background Reading. Learning the vocabulary, goals and problems of the organization starts with reading. Ask for copies of Townhall PowerPoints, quarterly memos and other similar messages. If the organization is completely new to you, consider reading the annual report (e.g. directory of annual reports from the Public Register)
- Take Notes. Expect to be drinking from a fire hose of information! Take a few notes during the day rather than attempting to rely on your memory (Tip: Use “A Notebook and A Pen” podcast from Career Tools to refresh your note taking skills).
By design, day one is meant to be light and easy to manage. The notes you take and reading you complete will help you later in the process.
Day 2: Management Meeting
You cannot hit a target you cannot see – you need to seek clarity on your goals. In your first meeting with management, use these tips to seek clarification on your goals.
- Adopt Beginner’s Mind. As you bring yourself up to speed, you will have a lot to learn. In your first meeting with your manager, come prepared to learn from them. For added insight, use the observation strategy to better align yourself with your manager’s goals.
- Prepare A Few Questions. Some managers will present information to you while others will ask you to start the discussion. In either scenario, bring 3-5 relevant questions to the meeting. Your questions should focus on clarifying your goals and metrics. The homework you did in Day One will make it possible for you to ask high quality questions.
- Ask For First Week Suggestions. In the final few minutes of the meeting, ask for suggestions on how you can make the most of your first week. You may be told to meet with a certain person
Day 3: Peer Meetings.
Meeting your peers is the next stage of the process. While your manager is important, you will accomplish much of your day to day work with your peers. You can get started in the following way.
- Remember Names. The most important task when you meet your peer is to make an effort to remember their names. One hack I have used to write down the person’s name and one identifying physical quality about them (e.g. glasses, height etc). You may also want to look up your peers on Linkedin at home to refresh your memory.
- Learn Their History At The Company. Understanding two details about their history at the company is helpful. As you meet your peers, ask how long they have been with the organization and when they got started in their current role. This information will help you identify who is likely to understand the company best.
- Look For Supporters. Often, there is one person who informally takes on the task of helping a new person reach success in a new job. As you meet people, pay attention for comments such as “For logistics and set up, you can ask me anything.”
Day 4: Organization Networking
Day 2 and 3 have given you a social foundation in your new role. If you are at a large organization, there are many more people to meet. Meeting people outside your immediate unit is a major factor in your success especially if you are a project manager. Use these two tips to get started.
- Company Committees. Look for one company committee to join. Common examples include health and safety, a social/party planning group and community of practice groups focused on specific professions.
- Company Directory. In large organizations, the company directory is an invaluable resource. Ask where you can find it on the intranet and start searching through there. As you meet new people in the organization, and look them up in the directory. I have seen some managers who often ask new people about who they report to (and which executive they report to). Reporting relationships can be found using the directory in many cases.
- Company Announcements. If your company has an intranet (i.e. internal website), read through recent announcements. In particular, look for information on awards, press coverage and other positive developments. You can then contact the staff mentioned in these articles and start to build a relationship. Introducing yourself by congratulating someone for winning an award is a great move.
Day 5: Identify Quick Wins
By Day 5, you will start to have ideas and some understanding of your new team. That means it is time for you to start looking for some quick wins. In this context, a quick win is a small accomplishment you can complete in a matter of days or weeks. There is risk in implementing quick wins in a large organization. However, it is well worth attempting to make a difference!
- Develop 10 Ideas For Quick Wins. As James Altucher explains, developing the habit of coming up with 10 ideas each day will help you become an idea machine. In this context, develop 10 ideas for ways YOU can improve the department or company. Focus on ideas that you can lead to completion with your existing skills.
- Meet With Management. Meet with your manager now that you have a list of ideas. Review the ideas with your manager and ask for input and/or approval to move ahead. If you are in a high growth or small organization, you may have greater authority to make changes on your own.
- Start On One Ideas. On Day 5, start the work of putting your quick win idea into action.
Resources To Help You Achieve Success In A New Role
After the first week, you may still be finding your legs in the new environment. That’s completely understandable. You can use these resources to continue the process.
- The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter by Michael D. Watkins. This book has attracted a lot of attention and partly inspired this article. It is aimed directly at leaders and managers. I agree with Watkins on the value of securing an early win.
- JumpStart Your Leadership: A 90 Day Improvement Plan by John C. Maxwell. As one of the most world’s top leadership experts, it makes sense to include one of his books on this list. I like his JumpStart series because you receive a small daily reading and exercise. The perfect tool if you are crunched for time in a new role.
- How to succeed in a new job by Penelope Trunk. A thought provoking article that suggests everything you told in the job interview is wrong. If you are moving to a new company, it is vital to remember that many of your normal working assumptions will need to be revisited.