As you’re about to start a new job, you need to think about your initial strategies for onboarding. Sure, many companies have some form of training, but the more you take responsibility for your own “best practices” for getting started, the more you ensure your own success. The beginning of any role is a critical time that you will never get back. Read through our onboarding tips to discover how to make the very most of that time.
During the introductory phase with a company, your main aim is to quickly absorb all the information you need so you can start adding value. These onboarding tips will guide you and are the most important primary onboarding info Ignite has gathered over the years to share with our clients. In small part, it’s also based on the book for leaders called The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter by Watkins.
Each Role is Unique: Walk-In With a Fresh Mindset
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that what brought you success in your last role will help you now. Set yourself up for success! Take a mental break from your old role and prepare to take charge of the new one. How? One way is through intention. Make some space for this and imagine yourself letting go of your previous position and embracing the new one with optimism.
Then reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. Consider your best tools (strengths) and jot them down where you can look at them each week during your onboarding. Consider how you will use them in service of giving the most value. Recall your weaknesses or areas of professional development, then consider a weekly plan to make sure these don’t fall into a blindspot. This plan should include looking for allies who have different but complementary strengths to bolster your weak areas.
What we’re talking about right now is making sure your weaknesses are being accounted for and not slipping into the driver’s seat when you’re not paying attention. For example, if you know you are very strategic but tend to lose focus on relationship building…then make sure from the very beginning that you map out a plan. Ensure you have strategic 1:1s with your peers, direct reports, and with leadership in the organization if appropriate. You might make a goal of meeting with two people a week in the beginning and create accountability by putting this in your schedule.
Concrete Level: Take Away
What does this look like in action?
1.) Intentionally let go of the role that was behind you. Let the patterns that emerged in your last role, good or improvable, stay there. Allow yourself to make a fresh start.
2.) Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses.
3.) Develop an action plan to make the most of your strengths and to account for or support your weaknesses.
4.) Weave this action plan into your schedule. Another way to put this….ask yourself how you’re going to keep this on your map? When we’re trying to make changes to our usual pattern, in the beginning, we are at risk for forgetting and slipping back into the pattern. What will you put in place to help you remember until it becomes the new pattern? FYI it’s not 21 days to change a habit. Neuroscience tells us it’s about 2-3 months.
5.) Begin to schedule 1:1s and create a list of questions. These should include rapport-building questions to get to know their personality and who they are, as well as, questions about the company, their goals, and vision. Use your best judgment but have an organized way to make the most of your time together.
Onboarding Tips on How to Approach the First Week
The first week is about observing and learning. It’s about meeting people, making real and authentic connections, and gathering information. One of the goals is understanding the culture, including lingo and the way things are done in that company. An important onboarding tip is to take notes. Also, make sure to join activities.
You want to observe and map out the org structure while also taking in the social structure. By this onboarding tip we mean, you should be learning the actual chain of command while also soaking in what you can about the individuals around you. Who contributes? Who is quiet? Which person moves quickly? Who comes up with ideas? And so on. Take notes.
This is the time to begin to understand your full job responsibilities. What are the expectations? Are there ongoing weekly, monthly, quarterly tasks? Does your company use OKR’s and if yes what have they been for your team? (OKR’s stands for “Objectives and Key Results.” It’s a collaborative goal-setting method used by teams and individuals to set challenging, ambitious goals with measurable results. OKR’s are how you track progress, create alignment, and encourage engagement around measurable goals.)
Onboarding Tip: Engage and Listen
We’ve already begun to touch on this but worth repeating, set goals for yourself connected to having 1:1s with people in the new company. How many will you have each week? This is important to do when you get started, as it’s the best time to learn all you can from others in the org. It gives you a chance to discover who’s who and to begin to build the relationships that will support your success. These new people are soon to become part of your greater professional network. It’s very likely that you are about to meet people that will help you with your career (and you helping them with their career) for years to come. What an exciting opportunity! Make the most of it.
Another onboarding tip is to consider the impression you’re making. Be an observer asking questions and use active listening as a way to show respect for your coworkers and the organization they’ve been building. The time to make impact will come but in most new jobs the first couple of weeks is about observing and learning.
Tailor Your Strategies With Your Company’s Stage of Development
This point is especially true if you’re in a leadership role, but this onboarding tip is worth reflecting on whatever your role.
First to consider: What is this company’s stage of development? There are five:
- Accelerated Growth
- Sustaining Success
Let’s note that at this point hopefully, you’ve considered which one of these, or which several, are really the best fit for you. Different personalities and strengths will tend to thrive in different environments and challenges. But if you’re reading this, there’s a chance you’re in the process of onboarding, so which stage is the company you’ve joined in?
In all five, the principle goal or north star of the company is to turn the business into, or continue to maintain, a successful and thriving business. However, each scenario comes with different challenges or a different north star. (We are using the term “north star” to denote the highest goal the company is working toward.)
In a start-up, this goal is to assemble the capacities to launch a new product or project. With turnarounds, the goal is to get teams and companies that are not functioning well back on track. In accelerated growth, the company will be experiencing rapid expansion. The goal is often putting the systems and processes in place to accommodate that growth. For realignment, the goal is to re-energize a once-successful business or project that is now in a precarious situation. And when you find yourself in a sustaining success situation, you’re in a company that is already performing well, so your goal is to maintain a high standard while working on ways to take the company to the next level.
“To take an organization forward, you have to know its origin, where it currently is, and where it’s going.” -Michael D. Watkins
You can’t figure out how to make impact in your role if you don’t know what phase the company is in. Different situations require you to make necessary adjustments in the planning and executing of your transition. By having a clear understanding of the situation at hand, you will be able to create the right action plan to help you get the results you need.
Onboarding Tips for the First 30 to 90 Days
Securing Early, Meaningful Wins
Your goal, in the beginning, should be about observing and learning. And while you don’t want to rush to make changes that can seem disrespectful or that disregard the current structure in place, we all want to be showing impact as soon as possible. The right early wins can give you credibility and momentum. People will know that you are indeed putting in the work. There are lots of good things to show for it.
To kick things off effectively, try to start simple. Look for the problems that you have the right set of skills to solve quickly and take them on. Simultaneously, make sure these potential wins are meaningful and contribute to your long-term goals. This way you avoid what Michael Watkins calls the “low hanging fruit trap” which occurs when you expend energy on securing early wins that have very little to do with your ultimate goal at the organization.
Never lose sight of the milestones and goals that you, your boss, and your company agreed to when they first brought you on. The wins you achieve during your transition should be meaningful to contribute to your long-term goals. They should also be simple enough to help you build momentum in the short term. Pinpoint the most promising opportunities and put all your efforts into translating them into wins, one at a time.
Onboarding Tip: Be On the Lookout
Another thing that can help you achieve short-term impact, if you are in a management position, is to look at problematic behavioral patterns the people working with you may exhibit. First, identify the behaviors; these might include a lack of: focus, innovation, discipline, use of proper processes, sense of urgency, and teamwork. Once you’ve discovered any pattern within the group that can hold the team back, you can then create a vision for how you would like the team members to conduct themselves by the end of your tenure.
Another onboarding tip is to work out a weekly and monthly plan that helps coach each team member. You want to support their professional development while getting them on a better track to reach the team goals.
If you aren’t in a management position, a way you might achieve short-term impact is mastering the art of Managing Up. The Harvard Business Review defines managing up as, “Being the most effective employee you can be, creating value for your boss and your company”. Another way to think of it is doing the things that help your boss succeed. Customizing your work style to better suit your manager, taking steps to make your manager’s job easier, all with the goal of optimizing success.
As you onboard to a job and with managing up in mind, consider these questions:
- What’s the best way to communicate with this boss? What are the best channels for communication?
- Is there anything on my boss’s plate that I can help her with?
- How do I best build rapport with this particular boss?
- What are my boss’s goals?
- What’s my boss’s management style?
- What are my boss’s strengths and weaknesses and is there a way your own style can support them?
- Are their problems you can anticipate and actively work to prevent?
Managing up is a way to develop a positive and compatible relationship with your boss. This is one of the many ways to secure early wins at the new job.
Onboarding Tip: Consider the Alliances You Build
In order to achieve your dreams and meet your goals, you need to surround yourself with influential allies. Even if your position comes with authority, there will still be some people over whom you have no sufficient influence. There will come a time when you need their support. So a part of your onboarding plan should be dedicated to identifying key allies who are likely to support your initiatives. Put simply, to realize your goals, you have to venture out and cultivate relationships.
To get started, figure out why you need other people’s support. Once you’re clear on what you’re trying to accomplish, you can then pinpoint the people whose support you’ll need to make it happen. Also, pay attention during meetings to see whose opinions almost always hold weight on important issues. Whose advice and insight do people tend to seek? Who do people direct their attention to when crucial issues are raised? As you learn more, you will start to understand the power dynamics of the organization.
Knowing how the main shot callers coalesce to pursue certain goals will help you figure out their agendas and structure your plans in line with them. This can give you tremendous power and support within the organization.
At this point, you could ask your boss if he can make introductions to these key people you’ve identified, so you can set up meetings with them.
During your onboarding, you are likely to face personal and professional tumult. You have great reasons for starting this new job but this change will come with some challenges. This is why an important aspect of onboarding has to do with maintaining your own balance. You must work hard to preserve your ability to make good judgments. To do this you have to be able to manage yourself.
Here are some common mistakes that can throw people off track at the beginning of a new job:
- Staying in isolation
- Not focusing
- Avoiding important tasks that aren’t in your zone of genius
- Failing to establish solid boundaries
- Shying away from making tough decisions, leading to procrastination
- Being rigid and/or getting defensive after making wrong judgment calls
If you find yourself exhibiting any of the dysfunctional behaviors listed above, an important onboarding tip is to work on eliminating them as soon as possible. Develop personal discipline by creating regular routines in line with your goals and enforcing them. Even if you aren’t the most routinized person, find some key times in your day and week, a morning routine perhaps, to put these new habits in place. Routines are a way to get a series of things done quickly because you’ve put a system in place.
Onboarding Tip: Start Planning
Devote time to planning your week out beforehand. This could look like spending an hour on Sunday evenings looking over your schedule for the week and preparing and adjusting. Then take at least 10 minutes at the end of every day to evaluate how well you met your goals for the day and then plan for the next day.
Before you even start your first day, begin to consider the boundaries between your work life and personal life. What do you want that to look like? How will you set the boundaries necessary to have this in place? This can include planning when you will work out or exercise, how you will have the healthy food you need as your schedule ramps up, and when or if you will jump back on to email in the evenings or on the weekends. The more structure you put into place, the more your whole system will be put to ease. Knowing that the important things that keep you in balance are still in place.
Onboarding is a very significant time in your career journey. You want to have a plan in place to make the very most of this beginning. We hope these Ignite onboarding tips will give you the support you need as you map out your onboarding strategy. You can also schedule a complimentary 30 minute phone call with one of our coaches for additional support.