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Kickstarting Your Own Onboarding: How to Get Started in a New Role

July 16, 2019

This post is contributed by Tim Ressmeyer | Founding Partner of Ressmeyer Partners and Executive Leadership Coach | 20 years’ experience as an executive in analytics and marketing research rolesThis is the second of a two-part series on successful onboarding. Part One examined best practices for companies onboarding new employees, and in this installment, I examine how employees can take charge of their side of the process.

As examined previously, often onboarding of new employees - including new senior leaders - consists of two weeks of awkward meet and greets, delivery of vast amounts of information from the proverbial fire hose, and thumb-twiddling while waiting for the IT guy to finish setting up your computer. If you're lucky, you might be thrown into confusing projects or client meetings.There is significant personal and professional risk for the Company and the Employee at this moment in time.For the employee, this is a time of anticipation and anxiety. There is rarely complete clarity, and there is inevitable confusion. There are high hopes and the fear of failure. This was a big move, and I'm not sure what I've gotten myself into.For both the leadership team and the new employee, onboarding is too often a missed opportunity. Too much is left to chance, the fragmented process is spread across too many parts of the organization, and there is not enough focus on the individual in play. Too much emphasis is on structure and systems, and not enough on strengths and success.There are two people in play - the nervous/excited new employee, and the fingers-crossed company leadership.

The 6 Steps for Onboarding from the Company Perspective:

  1. Clearly and confidently articulate the vision and mission of my organization
  2. Intentionally create a culture that aligns with my values, the values of the company, and the values of each and every employee
  3. Manage change effectively
  4. Confidently integrate diverse types of employees into my organization
  5. Create a trust-based relationship with my new hire
  6. Navigate the highs and lows of the onboarding process

For more on how to successfully execute these steps, see my previous blog here.

The Employee’s Commitment to Successful Onboarding

The employee cannot come into the new situation just waiting to be nurtured and drawn into the new role. Many companies do not onboard effectively, and since it's a two-way street, it is in your best interest to step up and maximize this period of time to help ensure your own success.

  1. Show Up on Day 1 With Confidence

You've got this. You were hired for a reason. You went through multiple interviews and perhaps presentations and assessments. People poured over your resume and asked you tough questions. And they hired you! They want you to be successful! Replacing employees is a costly undertaking, and they have spent money to bring you on, and they don't want to have to go through that again.

The Imposter Syndrome is powerful at this time. When you start wondering “soon they’ll figure out I’m not as good as they thought I was,” remind yourself that they chose you. They want you to achieve their goals as well as yours. Stand up straight, smile, look them in the eye and remind yourself that you’re there for a reason. You’ve got this!
  1. Clarify What Success Really Looks Like

You have had lots of conversations about your role, and you have a nice job description that initially caught your attention. Ok. Now you have to figure out what it means to crush it in your new role. The dating phase is over. You are done impressing each other. Now you have to live together and make it work.Create the pattern right away with your boss of knowing what success looks like in the first 90-days, and also in six months and at the end of the first year. Tell your boss you want to pretend it is precisely one year from your start date. You are sitting in the same place talking about the year gone by. Ask them to tell you what it would feel like if you both had a great year and what you would have accomplished.

Make sure to initiate these early clarifying conversations even if your boss doesn't. It's especially important if you are not in the same location as your boss. If you have multiple accountabilities, be sure to spend time with all of those people who will be benefiting from and evaluating your role or deliverables.
  1. Manage the ups and downs of the first four months

Prepare yourself for the cycles of ups and downs over the first several months and even the first full year. You will be nervously excited, then overwhelmed. You will feel like you're catching on and then wondering why they even hired you. You will feel like you've hit your stride, and then all of a sudden feel like you are at the low point again. That's ok. It's normal.

Be prepared for this roller coaster ride from the start and don't allow yourself to get sucked into the place of desperation or despair. Check with those around you to validate that you are doing ok, or to find out where you can toughen up. Remember, over time, those lows are never as low as they are at the very start. You are learning and growing all the time. Lean into and recognize your progress!
  1. Navigate the new work culture

Surprise! The company isn’t as perfect as they led you to believe during the interview process! Every company and team has its own culture, and it’s part of your job to start to understand it. Beware of being too judgmental and critical early on. You will discover the way people treat each other when mistakes are made. Or, you see the team members who seem to be able to get away with bad behavior. Perhaps there is a style of communication you're not used to. For instance, maybe in the past, people were straightforward with their feedback, and now you wonder why they are not addressing things head on.

Your job at the start is not to judge or to criticize the culture, but rather to learn what is going on. You will be creating your own style within this culture; now is the time to understand and observe.
  1. Learn as you connect

You will inevitably be introduced to many people in the early days and weeks. Use this time to develop relationships and learn from those you meet. Go into these meetings with confidence (see #1 above) that you are there for a reason, and you look forward to learning what they do and how you can serve each other moving forward.You don't have to be worried that you don't know everything; after all, you have just started! Focus on the relationship with the person and gain the agreement to reconnect as needed when things start to make more sense in the upcoming weeks and months.

The relationships you create in these early days can serve you well in the future. Get out of your own head of fear and trying to impress. People want to connect with you if you are showing that you are authentic and competent. Typically their success is connected to you in some way. Connecting with trust at the start will go a long way.
  1. Play to your strengths

You bring so much to the table. Whether it is subject matter expertise, technical knowledge, communication skills, leadership skills, or a host of other strengths, remind yourself of what you offer. Too often we drift into worrying about what we don't know rather than what we do.

When the uncertainty starts to build, think about what you do offer, and see how you can contribute. This does not mean an arrogance of "I know it all," but rather a confidence-building exercise to remind yourself and others that you are there to make a difference.

In Conclusion: Take Charge of Your Own Onboarding

These early days in a new job can be exciting and frightening all at the same time. Don’t rely on the company to provide the type of onboarding you think they ought to give you. They will have a plan in place, and you have the responsibility to make the most of that, but you should also want to take control of your own success. Follow these six steps, and you will be able to move through the early weeks and months with a feeling of confidence.

Want to learn more?

Check out the video below on Kickstarting Your Own Onboarding: How to Get Started in a New Role, where I share more about onboarding best practices for employees, how to stay confident through these transitions, and key goals for starting in a new position.