The First Thing to Do in a New Job

Quick: what is the first thing you should do when you get hired or promoted to a new job?

First, three things not to do:

Do Not fire someone to establish your authority.

I worked with a dude once who, when promoted to a new job, established his authority by firing one person on the team. Did it make people sit up? Sure. It made people sit up and wonder WTF was wrong with him. His arbitrary approach made people wonder if they were next, resumes got polished, and people took off running. It made him look weak, insecure, and cruel. Unless you want to flip your entire team, I don’t recommend it as a strategy.

Do Not show off how smart you are.

Look, they hired or promoted you. Relax. They believe in you. You don’t have to tell people how smart you are. You don’t have to flex your mental muscles in meetings to show it off. You don’t have to prove you deserve to be there. It makes you look like you don’t belong there and you are more likely to make mistakes.

Do Not build yourself a kingdom.

Yes, it is important to feel comfortable in your work space. But I’ve seen too many people focus on the size of their office, the decor of their cubicle. One woman I know bought a rainbow of pendaflex folders to organize her files. She didn’t read the room and realize that this purchase (on the company’s dime) was perceived of as frivolous and immediately tagged her with a brand she might not deserve. Yes, you’ll want to organize your space so that you can get work done – but let the space evolve as you understand the culture.

So, what should you do instead?

The #1 thing to do when you start a new job is to build trust. Build trust with your employees. Build trust with your colleagues. Build trust with the people above you.

If you are trusted, trusted with the work, trusted with information, trusted to have their back, trusted to get the job done, everything else becomes much easier.

I worked with an executive once who did not see that their role. They thought they needed to wow the company, to shake up the status quo, to demonstrate how much more they knew than everyone else. They undermined long-time employees by making them the bearers of unpopular decisions and then, when management complained, swooped in to countermand those decisions. They second-guessed team decisions and priorities and went their own way on things – and then had to re-do work. They overpromised and underdelivered.

As a result, their job became much harder. Employees didn’t trust them and looked for other work, creating a brain drain. They ended up having to re-do work that didn’t reflect team decisions; and found themselves micromanaged on their part in projects, because no one trusted that they would do what had been agreed on. With all this extra work, they fell further and further behind on deadlines, which caused yet more micromanagement because now people distrusted that they would get anything done. They lost face in meetings when they declared work finished, only to have the stakeholder say that, yes, the work was finished, but it was completely the wrong work, and was of no use – while, meanwhile, the stakeholder was at risk of losing customers because the right work had not even been started.

It all would have been much easier if they had started by building trust.

So how do you go about building trust?

Step 1: Listen.

When you start a new job – even if that job is a promotion in your current company – make it a point to listen to the people who have a stake in your success. Listen to the people who work for you, listen to your colleagues, listen to your boss. Get very good at asking questions that cause them to share with you their hopes, dreams, worries – for your department, for the company, for their world. Reflect back to them that you hear what they are saying, using their words as much as possible, and ask follow-up questions that demonstrate your understanding. Make it an ongoing practice to network in your organization and continue to expand your circle of influence.

Step 2: Start small.

Look for opportunities to deliver something, but start small. What you deliver does not have to be something large and impressive – if you wait for the amount of time it takes to generate something large and impressive, you’ve missed your window (think MVP). And taking on something large and impressive before you have listened enough to understand the situation increases the risk that you’ll miss something important. What you take on should reflect your understanding of what your role can do for the people that you work with and how their work systems, priorities, and processes will be impacted by your work.

Step 3: Be consistent.

People need to know that you will follow through on your commitments. If you agree to do something by a certain deadline, do it. If you agree to do something for them in a certain way, do it that way. If you have an idea about how to improve the thing you said you’d do for them, make them a partner in the decision to change the thing. If they disagree, use persuasion not brute force: treat them with the customer service approach that you wish you could receive in every interaction you have with others.

Step 4: Let the experts be your credentials.

Any time you introduce new ideas, new ways of doing things, introduce the science or the data first, then introduce your idea. Want to rebuild the customer intake process? Don’t just argue that the old process sucks or that your idea is better. Show the data about why the existing process doesn’t work or show research about the latest thinking about effective customer intake processes. So many times, professionals complain that people should trust them – that they know what they’re doing. The truth is, you need to earn their trust, even if you come in with fancy credentials or many years of experience in a different internal role.

Establishing Trust is Step 1.

Once you’ve developed trusting relationships with others, you will go on to great things.

Lead with trust and the rest will follow.

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