Being Successful in Your First 90 Days at a New Job

Hopefully my last couple posts helped you get through negotiations and you now have a job at a startup or tech company. How do you ensure success in your new role?

When starting a new job, you’ve got a short window to make a great impression. You also need to set yourself up for success in what may be a role you occupy for 1-5 years or beyond.

If you walk in the door without a plan and just hope your new manager will have everything ready to go, you’re making a big mistake. Every time I start a new job, I find my manager is  really busy and just hopes to throw me into the fray to see what I’m capable of. It’s always easier to assume that this will be the case, and then when you do have that perfect manager, you’ll be over prepared.

In my experience, you have 90 days to make a great first impression.

What to do in your first week?

Once you walk in the door, don’t assume that everything will be simple orientation, getting your laptop, and hanging out at your desk for your first week or two. Instead, make an active effort to get time with your manager right away. During this meeting, you want to figure out a few things:
  • What expectations does she/he have of the role?
  • What areas are critical that she/he wants you to focus on right away?
  • Who are the critical people you need to meet in the organization?
For this meeting, be ready with a set of questions for your manager. Questions like:
  • What metric is most critical for me to focus on?
  • How’s that being measured?
  • Who’s responsible for reporting on that metric and held accountable for it?
  • What areas of the business are the most important in my new role?
  • What people am I likely to work with the most in my new role?
  • Who else should I be meeting immediately in the organization?
  • (if you are managing a team) What are the strengths and weakness of my team members? What are each of them currently responsible for? What are the critical management opportunities for each of them right now?
After this initial meeting, you should have a sense for what you should focus on. You should also know who to meet with at the company right away. I recommend getting started immediately to know your co-workers.

Try to get time with anyone critical to you performing your job. You want to spend this time not criticizing people or their jobs, but instead spending the time to understand their role, the metrics they are focusing on, and the problems they are facing. The key here is to listen. If you walk in the door and try to tell a long time employee how to do their job or criticize their thinking, you’re not going to be received well. If you walk in with an attitude of wanting to help, people are going to want to work with you. Convince other employees that you are an ally and someone who they can work alongside to improve the company.

Also, building early allies is highly predictive of being happy and successful. If your co-workers like you and want to work together with you, your job is going to be a lot easier. It’s imperative that existing employees believe you’re aligned with helping them hit their metrics because then you have a group of people you can work with and trust.

(Obviously, if you have direct reports, you should be spending quite a bit of time with them too. But I think taking on a new role as a GM or manager is different than for a standard employee).

First 30 days

By your second week or third week, you should have a followup meeting with your manager to cover your goals for your first 90 days. In this meeting, you want to make a few things clear:
  1. The metrics you are responsible for in your area
  2. The key people you have met in your initial tenure and how you can mutually support one another
  3. What you intend to focus on and drive in your first 90 days. What projects will you take on, what areas will you oversee, how will those support your metrics?
  4. What does success look like at the end of 90 days?

You are creating a sense of accountability. You are stating your target, your tactics to hit it, and giving your manager a sense that you are committing to making meaningful progress right away. It gives your boss a sense that you are accountable, intelligent, and able to make an early impact at a company. Remember, this is the window to make a great first impression, seize the moment.

It’s also an opportunity to get immediate feedback from your manager. During this meeting, you want to be checking with him/her that your plan feels like the right one and that they agree with the goals you are setting for yourself. If they don’t, then you know you need to revise and come up with a different plan. But it means that you won’t be spending the first 3 months working on projects or tasks that aren’t aligned with what your boss had in mind.

Days 30-70

Hopefully you are meeting regularly with your manager. While checking in on your 90 day plan doesn’t need to be the topic of every single 1:1, it should be discussed once every 2-3 weeks. The goal in those meetings should be to check in on the plan.

It’s a good time to talk about things like:
  • What progress are you making towards your goals?
  • What barriers are you running into? Do those change your tactics or metrics?
  • What things will you not actually be able to achieve in 90 days now that you’ve learned more about the organization? Or, is there more you think is actually possible?
  • What opportunities are there for us to improve as a company?
I especially like talking about this last question. As a new employee, you have a unique perspective that people inside an organization will not have. However, as I mentioned earlier, telling people that what they do is wrong or broken often creates a sense of resentment towards new people. Instead, have conversations with your boss about opportunities you see for the company to improve. And, be sure to have some realistic thoughts about how those improvements can be made. There’s little value in pointing out a problem unless you have an actual idea for solving it.

Day 90

At the end of this process, it’s a good time to do a final check on how everything went against plan. Did you hit your targets or goals for your first 90 days? What feedback or opportunities for improvement does your manager see? What are the next set of things you should focus on?

The secret here is, the first 90 days should be a process that gets repeated at some level every 90 days (or month/quarter/etc). It’s just a way to make sure you and your manager are aligned on what you’re working on. It’s a way for you to make it clear what’s getting in your way, how you are solving problems, and what you want to accomplish. And it’s a way to establish great credibility with your new boss. Over time, you may not need it to be structured as formally, but just having a clear set of guidelines for communication sets you up for success in your new role.

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