TSLH #056: 2 Key Steps and 5 Tips To Successfully Onboard a New Job

TSLH #056: 2 Key Steps and 5 Tips To Successfully Onboard a New Job

Read time: 4 minutes


When Tom (name changed) joined our leadership team a few years ago, I had my doubts that he would succeed in his new role as a General Manager for the division. After all, I saw him arriving on day 1, as planned, spending his time with HR for some onboarding activity, and then starting to meet people. However, no-one in our leadership team knew him or had met him before. Although we did connect with him, Tom needed a good 3-4 months to really understand the challenges of the division and start addressing those challenges. After less than a year on the job, Tom left the company.
Contrast this with Michael (name changed) who was appointed head of EMEA for our company after a successful role in Asia. One of the first things Michael did, even before his official day 1 on the job, was to call the people on his leadership team. To me, he asked questions like “What do you see as the challenges I will have when I come to Europe?” or “Tell me about the mood, the atmosphere in the organization, the team”. When Michael had his official day 1, he already knew all his direct reports, could connect quickly to the business realities and its challenges and in no time was able to bring valuable contributions to the company.
The key learning here is that when you transition to a new role, it is critically important that you start engaging with your new company, new team, new division before your official day 1. In fact, I will argue that you should start engaging and thinking about what you will accomplish in your new role from the date you are considered for the role. In some instances, it will be a mere few weeks before day 1 (worst case would really be a few days only). In other instances, you may have a full month or more to prepare.
No excuse then!
There are many things you should do to prepare for your new role. I am giving you 2 steps and 5 tips you need to make sure you have in your transition plan in order to succeed.
Let the old job go. This one is especially true if you’re transitioning to a new role within the same company, but it remains a challenge for many who join new organizations as well. When you start in a new role, you want to be able to have your undivided attention to this new role and not be constantly disturbed by former colleagues, your old boss, your successor in your former role who may all have questions they know you have an answer for.
As much as I would like to tell you that you should just turn off the lights on the old job, in reality, in many situations, this is hard to do, especially when you leave in good terms, or you stay in the same organization, or your old boss continues to be your new boss.
Here are however 2 actions you can implement and that will go a long way into establishing a clear cut between the old job and the new job.
  • Give the “key” of the old job to the new person taking over the role. For people to not annoy you in the future when you take on a new role, a key action is to have strong clarity on the passing of the torch between you and the new role holder. Ideally, you can do this literally by having a small meeting with your team and other stakeholders in the company, where you introduce your successor and you phisically hand over keys to him (it does not matter what keys, it’s all to create a visual for people) while saying something like “This person is the new boss!”
  • Negotiate the time you still need to spend in the old job. Now, let’s be realistic. In cases where you stay in the same company, chances are you will be pulled by your old boss or former colleagues to answer some questions. This is a fine line to walk indeed. You don’t want to antagonize people and at the same time you want to be able to focus on your new role, otherwise you will fail. What I have found work really well is to have a discussion with your boss or the person taking your role and negotiate rules of engagement for you. For instance, in one company I worked for, I moved from the Middle East to Europe, so my former boss was still there and my old team was still there. I agreed with my former boss that I would cut 2 weeks out of the next 4 months to work with him and the team on questions or topics they have. Outside of those 2 weeks, I would not be available. It actually worked very well.
Of course, if you switch company, you can shorten the 2 weeks to something that is more comfortable for you. You may also benefit from having your successor join early enough before you leave that you can devote enough time for the transition (for some reasons though, I have never seen that process work efficiently in any of the companies I was in.)
Engage before day 1. Whether you stay in the same organization or you switch company, the #1 mistake I see many leaders do is failing to engage proactively before their official start date. This is a clear career derailer, and the more so as you climb up in the organization. Although you won’t have all the answers you need before day 1, engaging upfront will give you a clear lead in some work that you’ll need to do, or get you on some good reflection (for instance on what type of strategy may be available to you or not when you start, etc.)
When you engage before your official day 1 on the job, the idea is not that you start doing any work at all. The idea is more to start interacting with the key people in the organization, so you start your learning process. Again, this won’t give you all the answers you need by day 1, but this is also not what you want to look for.
Here are 3 actions you can implement now and that will give you a big lead in how you step up on your next job.
  • Start having informal discussions with your direct reports. They should be the first people you reach out. You can have these discussions through video calls, meetings, having a coffee or lunch, etc., whatever makes it comfortable for you and the person you meet. Then, it’s about just saying “Hey, I am John, I will start as you new boss and I wanted to have a chat with you to get to know you.” That’s pretty much it. You can then add questions about what they think about the current challenges, strategy, etc, but the key is stay at the human level and learn about the person and let the person learn from you. Note: You should also identify other key stakeholders (Board member, your boss, other leaders, clients, etc.) and have similar conversations with them.
  • Collect as much information as possible on the company. Here you want to learn and read about products, competition, culture, but also the people, collaborators. The ultimate outcome of this research is to start creating a SWOT matrix of the organization you join and/or your team. This will give you some time to think about what could be some leverage points or some risks that you may face.
  • Start planning your first 3 months on the job. You cannot arrive on day 1 with no idea of what you will do in the next 90 to 100 days. If you do so, you will suffer quickly and you may miss the opportunity to make a strong contribution early on. Remember that in your new job, you only get these 90 to 100 days to prove yourself. Rarely more. You should think ahead about how you will approach your first 3 months in your new job. I recommend planning thoroughly for day 1 and your first week and then focus each of your first three months on something specific, for instance:
    • Month 1: Learning is the key, you will spend most of your time having conversations, learning from people and other sources.
    • Month 2: This is time for assessment, of your team, the strategy, understand what early wins you can identify, etc.
    • Month 3: It should be about building your team, having all the pieces in place so you can start delivering strong results.
It’s never easy to transition from one role to another. This is especially true if you stay in the same organization and you will typically not have a clear cut between the old and the new job. It should be clear now what makes preparation before day 1 essential for your success in the new role though. My last piece of advise is therefore for you to find a way to negotiate when your day will be. If you think that you will need a good 3 weeks to prepare, and to have some rest, make sure this is part of your discussion when you accept your new role. You are 100% responsible for putting yourself in the best conditions to succeed!
I wish you a great read. I’ll see you next Saturday!
TL; DR (Too Long, Did not Read)
2 key steps and 5 tips for successully onboarding a new job
  1. Let the old job go.
  2. Engage before day 1.

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