The first thing you do is remember that you don’t know what you don’t know. Be very careful about your assumptions. If you had the same job in a different organization, remember it might not be the same job in this one–just the same title. If Directors act/do/are a certain way in your old organization, they might act/do/be different in this one. If you get promoted in your (same) organization, it is a NEW job, not just more of the same. Treat it as a new job. If you manage a new group, move to a different location, get a new boss (yeah, I said if you get a new boss), it is a new job. Just like all jobs, this job will have good things and bad things. If you get off to a good start, it will have more good than bad. Move on to the second thing:
Become hyper-sensitive to your surroundings. Pay attention. Listen. Watch. Notice. Who are the power players? What is the informal network? Who are the formal and informal leaders? What is the culture? Put your antenna up and start to feel out the unwritten rules. Ask questions. At the beginning, you have a window of opportunity where people expect you to ask questions and you feel comfortable doing it. Learn the language (every organization has its own set of acronyms).
Put on a consultant’s hat–do an organization assessment. What works, what doesn’t work? What are the opportunities for quick hits? Talk to lots of people! Ask them what they do. Ask them about themselves. Learn their names. Learn as much as fast as you can. Work on putting together your own picture of how it all works together. If you do this right, you will very quickly know more about the organization, or at least have a different view, than many who work there because you will be actively investigating it. Not very many people do this about their own organizations.
Make a good impression. Get there early and stay late. Come across friendly, confident and interested. Dress not only to look good, but to feel good. It will come across. Take the initiative–even when it is uncomfortable. Commit and deliver on your commitments. Don’t over commit–it’s really easy to do in the early days, when you want to impress. It’s better to surprise by delivering beyond your commitment than by failing to land your promised deliverables–remember you’re still in the impression-making days. Work on making a good impression on all levels of the organization. You never know who listens to whom.
The Fourth Thing
Work on your networks and alliances. The Center for Creative Leadership has done research that the most successful leaders have what is called “Manager Trade Routes,” informal networks of reciprocal exchanges.(Trade Routes: The Manager’s Network of Relationships (Technical Report) by Robert E. Kaplan and Mignon Mazique) It’s best to get started on this early. Figure out your peers–who are they, what motivates them, what are they trying to accomplish. Begin to work on developing powerful relationships with them. My experience is that more Executives fail because of their failed interactions with their peers than with their bosses.
And Finally, The Fifth Thing
Figure out and stay on top of what your boss wants from you. Learn how your boss asks for things. Learn how s/he wants things communicated back. Ask for reports or presentations that will clue you in about what your boss values. Don’t assume s/he knows what you’re doing in your first weeks. Ask how s/he wants to be updated. Over-communicate at first. Be enthusiastic, energetic and positive in your interactions with your boss. Make him/her glad s/he hired you.
Check out the book, The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders by Michael Watkins, for some good tips.