The First 90 Days on the Job Can Make or Break You

By Marie Jennings

The early days in a new position set the tone for future success or struggle. Executives face many challenges at once. They must balance learning about the organization and its dynamics with the impressions they are making on others. They have to work to understand the new position, new colleagues and their operating styles and build relationships. Discovering the way things really are as compared to what they expected can generate a disturbing array of emotions. There is a lot to absorb when entering a new organization.

Many organizations rely on the time-honored Sink-or-Swim approach to onboarding new executives. Progressive organizations are realizing that a well-orchestrated beginning has a positive impact on retention (for example, GE assigns a Transition Facilitator to new executives). Selecting a team of people who will partner with the executive can significantly speed the integration process. The team could include the boss, the appropriate HR person, a senior mentor who can provide an inside view of the organization, an external coach and maybe even an industry expert to get the executive get up to speed quickly.

The team can help the executive decide if it is more appropriate to: * Be patient or get productive immediately * Honor the current culture or implement change * Wait for confirmation or trust intuition * Seek advice or demonstrate competence * Stay in learning mode or act with authority * Seek input and feedback or make position clear * Display humility or confidence * Affiliate with people quickly or maintain professional boundaries

Authors Diane Downey and Michael Watkins identified stages executives go through in the assimilation process. Interestingly, they agree about the time it takes. Downey’s four stages include:

  1. Anticipating and Planning (begins date of hire)
  2. Entering and Exploring begins on entering the organization (9 months)
  3. Building networks (9 months)
  4. .Contributing (3 years from Day One)

Watkins’ 4 Waves of Change also add up to three years:

  1. Transition (6 months)
  2. Immersion (6 months)
  3. Reshaping (6 months)
  4. Consolidation (18 months)

The first 90 days in a new job make up only 8.2 percent of a three-year assimilation period. What happens during this "honeymoon period" can make or break the "marriage." Executives need good listening, observation, planning and networking skills to make the best possible decisions. Recognize that executives who are driven by ego risk overlooking valuable input from people at lower levels in the organization who can provide practical insights about the way things really work. Identifying the informal leaders early makes it possible to build support strategically.

Executives appreciate having an external coach to help them manage the specific personal and professional issues that arise during the assimilation process. A coach who has experience with the organization can help the new hire contextualize experiences. An external coach can also serve as an objective sounding board and bridge between the executive and others, making sure the individual receives the timely feedback needed to succeed.

If you are just beginning in a new company or role, mke it easy for people to approach you. Build relationships with people at all levels. The most powerful influencers may not have their own box on the organization chart. Listen carefully not only to what people say, but what they don't say. Identify people's strengths and help them have some early wins under your leadership. Plan collaboratively--people are less likely to resist plans they helped develop. And get ready to map out effective integration plans for all the new people you will need to hire because of your success!



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