Starting a new job, position or project? First, take a step back and consider your future goals.
There’s an old custom to sit on one’s luggage for a minute before starting a journey, giving oneself a moment to reflect. It’s equally applicable when starting a new career role… but what should you think about?
The first day of a new project, a new job, or a new role can be very exciting. Nerve-wracking, too. You’ll be experiencing a lot of change in a very short period of time and you’re worried about getting off on the right foot.
It can be tempting to jump in and start doing work from day one, minute one. What could be a better start, after all, than showing how serious and dedicated you are to your new assignment? If you do this, though, you may be gaining immediate progress while losing a chance to set the stage for greater success.
As a mnemonic in your reflection, think of OMEGA – you can think of it as beginning with the end in mind:
Just like setting off on a trip, you have to know where you’re going, first. Physically, I mean. We’ll get to the metaphorical destinations next. Where do you have to show up, when, and who are you looking for? Obviously, this is important for day one, but it can extend to other onboarding activities such as training, project kickoffs, and so on.
It might sound easy enough, if it’s a new job, at a location where you’ve already gone for an interview. How about if the assignment is in another city? Or if you don’t have your access card yet and you have to go to another building? Just make sure you ask for help so you can get where you need to go.
Not only is showing up a big part of success, knowing that you have those details worked out can reduce your stress. Also, showing up in the right place at the right time makes a good first impression, too.
Besides being there, it’s important to have access to what you need. Your new organization may have an onboarding checklist to follow, but if not, you’ll need to keep asking for help in identifying the tools and resources you’ll need access to. Typically, persistence is crucial!
2. Mission and Vision
At the same time, you’re in the weeds of onboarding, you should take some time to look at the stars.
If you’re taking on a new role, you may feel like it’s well-enough defined by its role description. For a new project, the project’s defined objective might seem like the target to shoot for. Whatever the role, however, you can put it in the context of your own mission, your personal vision for yourself and your career.
What drives me to excel?
Put another way, why do you want to do a good job? Remember to ask why five times – you want to do well because you take pride in your work. Why? You want a raise or a bonus, or you want your team to be rewarded, or your company to grow. Why? And so on…
If you can say what is driving you and your team, you can bring the focus back to that when you are discouraged. It’s also easier to explain your motivation and foster it in others if you can say what it is.
Your first week is also the time to confirm that you understand what’s being expected of you. Expectations are likely to change from time to time, but you need to understand the basics: what is your role? What tasks are you expected to perform, what metrics are you expected to meet, or what objectives are you expected to achieve?
Additionally, you should be able to put these expectations into a larger context. Are the expectations clear to you? Do you understand what drives them? In what areas might you extend yourself, and in which areas should you stick to the role description?
I often talk about writing your own job description and being well-enough versed in your role and its expectations that you can define better what your job should be. If you’ve walked into a role with very hazy expectations, your first week might be a great time for you do that and to put your own stamp on things. If the role’s better defined, however, you should probably wait until you’ve lived the role for a while.
While mission defines the passion that will keep you going, and expectations set the parameters, goals set the course.
How will you define personal success in your new role? What do you want to get out of the experience?
Try to keep your definition of goals very wide, anywhere from overall achievement (“I want to get company-wide recognition for how awesome my team was”) to specific skills and experiences (“I want to facilitate a requirements discussion” or “I want to conduct a status meeting”). Some goals will fall in a sequence – intermediate goals have to be defined and achieved before the bigger goals can be.
Also, goals are usually most powerful when they’re shared with someone. It doesn’t do much good to want to build a certain skill, not tell anyone about it, and then seethe that you never got a chance. Tell others around you about the skills you’re trying to build and ask for opportunities to develop them.
As a manager, I also like to encourage people to tell me what level of success would constitute a parade-worthy success. Not only does it help me coach and motivate them, I think it helps them visualize what it will take to achieve it. That sort of success takes diligence and commitment at many steps along the way, it’s valuable to think about that before taking the steps.
More than anything else, your attitude is what people will see and react to in your first week. Are you excited? Afraid? Overconfident?
Your attitude and approach is personal and will have a lot to do with your circumstances, but you have the power to shape it. The suggestion of thinking about your mission and goals is made to help you shape your attitude constructively.
It can be tempting to hit the ground running. At one company I worked for, we were really known for that among our clients: we got dropped into a new situation, we’d take a quick look around, and then we’d get right to work. Generally, this was not just appreciated but marveled at. It was a big selling point.
Besides the positive optics, there’s also the personal reinforcement. Any uncertainty you may feel in a new situation can be mitigated by the sheer energy you put in.
I’d suggest a little more caution, a little more patience. While you want to show energy, demonstrate a can-do spirit, and show off your skills – all to make a great first impression – it can be important to strike a balance. This is also a time to listen and learn. Your co-workers and stakeholders will likely have some experience with what you’re diving into, and possibly some sound advice. Going too fast without absorbing their input is likely to look arrogant, and that’s a first impression it’s hard to recover from.
Which brings up another aspect of attitude in a new role: it’s a chance for a fresh start. You get a chance, with new responsibilities, a new environment, and new co-workers, to put forward a new version of yourself. Not a complete reinvention, typically, or a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde transformation – more of a You 2.0. Did you get off on the wrong foot on your last project (maybe a little arrogance at the start)? Now you get a chance to try it again.
It’s also a chance to shape what skills you identify with. Perhaps in your last role, you were the project management expert, but now you want to be known more as the data guy, or the expert on meeting facilitation. Here’s a chance to shape your personal brand, downplaying one set of skills and promoting another.
You never see something as clearly as you see it for the first time. Your initial perspective on your new role, your new environment, will have a special clarity to it. Once you’ve gotten into the work and into the day to day activities, it will be harder to stand back and see the bigger picture around it –
So make sure to take a moment, sit on your luggage, and reflect on where you’re going.