April 26, 2017 • 6 minute read • by Saeed
“…there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” – Donald Rumsfeld
This is about your first 90 days. The most crucial period on your new job.
Your first 90 days on the job are the most crucial because what you do in the first 90 days can have a potential long term effect on your overall experience at the company. That’s according to Harvard Business School professor Michael D. Watkins who in his 2013 book, The First 90 Days, outlined how these transition times are critical to ultimate success on the job.
If you’ve been on the job but you’re unhappy, think back to your first 90 days. If you are in your first 90 days, this is your chance to chart a course for one of success.
In brief, you have 90 days to prove that you were worth the trouble the hiring department went through to get you in your new seat. That’s true if it’s a new job and it’s also true if you’re promoted into a higher position at the same job. For this post, we are going to assume that the employer has done their bit in on-boarding you to make sure you have what you need to be successful. Now let’s get to work.
Time is not your friend
But focus and attention is. You need to hit the ground running and figure out what’s what quick. You need to know your strengths and weaknesses. What worked in your last job may not work in this one. You may need to acquire new skills, so acquire them. You may need to build new alliances, so build them. You may need to learn new content. So learn it. You need to know what you know and know what you don’t know. Most importantly, you need to be ready for the things you don’t know you don’t know.
What do you need to know?
In short, everything. But you need to prioritize and focus on what’s important. The tendency is to focus on the technical job skills and not enough on politics. It’s understandable to want to gain mastery over the core components of your new job. But it’s relationships and politics that often take us off track. To start, put together a learning plan. Figure out what’s a top priority and what can wait. Use the Eisenhower Decision Matrix. to figure out what’s important and what’s urgent. Do you know the biggest challenges your department or organization is facing? Why is your department or company facing these challenges? Do you know where the opportunities are? How can you find out? Do you know who the key players are; internally and externally?
How well do you need to know it?
Here is the thing: You fail because you fail to learn and you learn by directing your attention towards what you want to learn. It’s not about intelligence. It’s about attention. Like sunlight going through a magnifying glass you have to focus your attention. On what? The essentials. What matters most. What keeps you moving forward or better yet what propels you. If you put your attention on the wrong things, you’ll always be playing catch up. You’ll create head winds for yourself instead of putting the wind at your back. If you just engage in a flurry of activity and change for change’s sake, you’ll blunder and stymie your progress. If you must fail, then fail fast and fail forward. Learn quickly from your mistakes and press on. Your ideas got you hired. The quality of your execution keeps you hired.
Momentum, Momentum, Momentum
They say in real estate it’s all about location. In the first 90 days, it’s all about momentum. Here is the wind analogy again: Your job is to get wind in your sails, not tears. Tears hold you back. Wind keeps you moving and even accelerates your journey. Wind =Wins. You need early wins to propel you. To get them, you need to adjust to the culture, adjust to your boss and get in alignment with where the business is going. Don’t work against the grain. Don’t sail on sand. You need to root out misalignment (in yourself and in others) and address it. If you feel resistance (in yourself and in others), look for the release valve. Be a problem solver. Be a facilitator. Create value. Grease your own runway.
Get To Know the PPL
Unless you are a monk in a cave, work is about relationships. Know what motivates each member of your team. If you have A players, do everything to keep them and get them on your side. They’ll propel you the most. Take time to listen instead of showing off your knowledge and skills. Build credibility before visibility. Be positive. Be collaborative. Be assertive. And if you’re in a position of power, recognize that direct authority is never enough and never sustainable. You have to build buy-in. You have to build coalitions. Don’t just focus “vertically” on managers above you—also create “horizontal” alliances. Remember, of all the people in the room, 50% will support you; 20% never will, and the other 30% are ‘swing voters.’ Where will you spend your time?
Why 90 days?
It’s a quarter, which is a recognized time frame in the business world. Companies often track how they’re doing based on how much progress they make each quarter. In presidential politics, the fixation with the first 100 days traces its history back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who passed 15 major pieces of legislation during the era of the Great Depression. Presidents have been trying to manage that impossible standard and the expectations surrounding it ever since.
The First 90 Days Are Your Architectural Blueprint
Your first 90 days are when opinions and impressions are formed about you. If you’re late every morning, you’ll be labeled accordingly; if you make mistakes you may be thought of as careless going forward. Reputations, once built, can be tough to break. Be on your best game so you can create the best impressions early and build off of them for the rest of your time. Be mindful that you don’t over-promise and under-deliver.
Harsh Beginning May Mean a Harsh Ending
And if you do all this and still have a harsh startup, don’t just ignore the writing that may be on the wall. You should absolutely try to right the wrongs, give the benefit of doubt, and try to make it work. But also know and be ready for how long that should take and when you should take action if you don’t see improvement in your experience. Statistics tell the story: 20 percent of employee turnover happens in the first 90 days of employment. That means that one of every five people who start a new job today are likely to have left that job within just three months. And that, may be a good thing.
Invest in your first 90 days. It will pay you back in dividends.