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Back in 2001, Campbell’s Soup was in decline. The iconic, quintessentially American soup brand was facing a sharp drop in market value: while internally, its culture seemed negative, its employees unmotivated. And that’s when Doug Conant stepped in to take over as CEO.
In Conant’s first few months as CEO, he restructured the leadership team, established a 10-year recovery plan – and put the company back on the road to profit. Perhaps even more importantly, he improved company culture by connecting with employees and helped create a more positive overall atmosphere.
He is an excellent example of what it takes to be effective in a new role, even in the first few weeks and months. While we may not all be changing the course of an entire company, some learnings can be taken from his actions and those of other highly effective team members, that can be applied to your own start in a new role. Here are a few tips for success.
Week 1: How will I fit into the culture?
Once the interview stages have gone by and the salary negotiations are well behind you, what can you start doing right away to be highly effective? First up, collate your interview notes and re-read the job description, for a refresher on the task ahead.
Get plenty of rest before day one. Ideally, taking a long weekend away, or spending a day hiking, can help provide you with a mental ‘reset’, to restore your energy and enthusiasm for the adventure ahead.
In your first week, do the basics to get settled in. Find the printers, stationery, meeting rooms, and who to call if your computer crashes before you hit the save button. Then upon your initial chat with your boss, discuss the early priorities for your role, with a sense of timing. It can provide a cross-check for when you arrive.
The first 90 days are more than simply a probation period to pass through. They exist for both sides to see if the initial connection from the interviews translates well into the real, day-to-day demands of the role. Most importantly, can you deliver on what came through in the hiring process? And for you, is it truly a professional and cultural fit? While no job is perfect immediately, look for any warning signs that it might be far from what you expected.
Month 1: Listen and learn
In the first 30 days, your priority should be to ask good questions, listen intently, and connect the dots. Learn what people are saying and what they’re not saying. Find out what your predecessor did or didn’t do well, and the effect that had in the wider team. Determine the new improved processes you can put in place: and find out the priorities are for your new role.
The initial weeks are also a great time to figure out how best to work with your immediate supervisor. You spotted a good manager from the interviews: now is the time to lay the foundations for a successful working relationship. Get a sense of what it will take for your team to succeed by establishing baseline performance metrics, noting your manager’s own metrics. If you’re leading a team, observe team dynamics, and note the conditions in which the best work occurs.
Jane Jackson, a career management coach from Australia, notes that in terms of achieving big wins in your first 90 days, it’s important to focus on efficient onboarding – plus soft skills such as connecting with people. Early on, you need allies beyond your boss to get the early wins: build links by connecting on LinkedIn with those you’ve met during the interview process, being enthusiastic, and keeping a positive attitude.
Getting to know the people you’re working with is important – in particular, understanding how your role relates to theirs’, and how you can each help the other succeed. In a poll by Monster.com asking what the most important thing an employee should do during the first 100 days, only 6% answered: “get to know your team”. While clearly, you’re not there to socialise, don’t underestimate the power of relationships in helping you settle in, and prove effective in your new role.
Essential 30 Day Action: Meet with as many stakeholders as possible: introduce yourself, ask questions and listen, listen, listen.
Month 2: Plan and apply
Moving into the next month, start to apply your own experiences, and your style of doing things, to creating action plans, and ticking off your objectives. Establish new processes that are missing, and flag these improvements at future discussions. Early on, being sure to start on smaller projects that can be solved easily and quickly – the early wins will get you in gear for the bigger wins later on.
Take the initiative by setting up meetings with your manager, whereby you share your plans and seek direct feedback as to how things are going so far. Doing this at around 60 days in can give you enough time to correct your course if something is lacking focusing – plus it will show initiative, awareness and ownership of the outcome.
Understanding what was achieved to date in your role – both good and bad – is essential to planning out what needs to be done next. Acknowledging and building on positives from your predecessor will positions you as a team player, and give you valuable insider information as to pain points in the role. Note that while politics is unavoidable, it won’t serve your purposes: just remain constructive and focused on your objectives throughout. Jane Jackson has good advice for staying neutral.
“It’s wise to ask questions that show appreciation for current employees and respect for those who came before you. Be very tactful, especially in the early days – even if you believe you completely understand the political landscape of the organisation.”
Doug Conant, who now works at the Kellogg Executive Leadership Institute, had this to say about taking on a role that involves leadership: “Leaders have a bias for action. When they’re listening, it may not feel like they’re accomplishing anything. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he notes. His advice in three steps? “Listen, Frame, Advance. Asking the question, ‘How can I help?’ gets you started.”
Essential 60 Day Action: Schedule a meeting with your manager to get feedback.
To 90 Days: Consolidate your actions
In your third month in the role, implement your plans and kick off your major projects. Now is the time to take all your prior experience and knowledge, and to apply it to your new framework. Look back at what you’ve done over the last 90 days, and keep track of the wins you’ve gained. A list of accomplishments can be a good motivator and starting point for the next few months. Plus, now that you’ve had wins, work out ways to scale up the process and make it work faster.
Find opportunities to develop your own skills. In a recent survey done by Michael Page of recent job applicants, 65% of respondents expected to develop new skills in the next 12 months. As digital transformation changes the workplace, the opportunity to upskill can be invaluable.
Essential 90 Day Action: Look back to what you’ve accomplished and ahead to the actions plans you’ve put into place. Assign dates, deadlines and key performance indicators (KPIs) to your work.
Beyond 90 days
Once you have passed the 90-day mark, it’s time to move into full action. Be sure to keep gathering feedback on what’s working. With your understanding of the organisation, now is the time to create change and deliver results. Never stop learning though - top performers are always on the lookout for learning opportunities.
Set realistic goals and tick them off as you achieve them. Make necessary adjustments to goals as you go along. Keep seeking feedback from your team, managers and other stakeholders. And finally, gain a greater understanding of what’s going on around you, and how your expanding role contributes to the overall output of the team.
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