A few months ago, I was starting a new job at the same time as a friend. We were talking about our work, and she shared this helpful framework for thinking about your first few weeks.
Here is the idea:
- There are three categories of things you should be doing when starting out
- Building relationships with the people you will be working with
- Learning and thinking strategically about the new topics
- Getting things done in the role
- Balance your effort across these categories
- Do this for each of the projects or priorities you’re working on
I think this is an important structure for two reasons:
Most of us gravitate towards one category over others. When we’re starting out, we’re more likely to focus on our areas of comfort. Putting these categories together can encourage us to take a balanced approach.
It’s easy to fail to allocate time intentionally. Most of us have the challenge of managing multiple projects or priorities. By placing them on a single sheet of paper, it’s easier to be deliberate about our decisions.
A few other insights I’ve found helpful as I’ve applied this framework.
Invest at two levels of relationship. In most organizations, there will be more senior leaders who sponsor projects and mid-level managers who get things done. When starting out, it is most important to invest in building relationships with the more junior team members who you’ll often actually be working with to get things done. And they’ll be thrilled that you realized how important it was to connect with them.
Learn from outside in. When we’re in the midst of a project, we’re often focused on the next set of deadlines or milestones. When you start, it’s a great time to step back and learn about the fundamentals or the theory of the role: read books and strategic articles, decide what institutions and leaders have the best point of view, etc. But it’s also a perfect time to learn the tactical view. Take the time to read the customer comments, visit the field team, or really have an experience of the heart of the work. Dive deep into the specific context while you still have an outsider’s perspective.
Take a product mindset. When it comes to getting things done, most of what you do in the first few weeks of a new job will miss the mark. If it were easy and super helpful, someone else would have already done it. But, if you can make an information product that is finite, easily returned to, and serves a specific purpose–often those can be very useful later on. Examples would be a short checklist for a common task, a brief analysis of an important but overlooked problem, or a deep dive The important thing is to have a finished product that you can easily return to and share.
I’ve found these tips incredibly helpful in roles I’ve started since. Hopefully they help you as you start your next adventure!