The first 90 days in a new job are crucial to get right, however none more so than the very first day in the company.
The first day will make or break most leaders entering a new leadership position in a new company, as it is often filled with hidden landmines and if approached wrongly, it may very well end up damaging your personal credibility.
In my experience, the first day should be used to set the scene for building your personal credibility in the new organization. You meet a few key people to ensure alignment before you expose yourself to the broader organization. However, already in the weeks leading up to your first day in the job, you are advised to clear your agenda for your first day with your future director or board chairman and maybe look for advice on how best to handle this important day.
Then on your first day, you should start out meeting with your director or board chairman to ensure full alignment on expectations and communication, and to see if something important has changed since your last talk. Thereafter, you are advised to meet briefly with your own management team before proceeding to meet with the rest of the staff, for instance, at an informal breakfast meeting. Arriving at the breakfast meeting together with your new management team will send a strong signal to the staff. After this, you are advised to meet with your peers and other key stakeholders. I advise you not to hold your first formal staff meeting with direct reports and their reports until the second day because the first day is best suited for dialogs that are more informal. At the staff meeting, you should expect to get a broad variety of personal and professional questions. Often, the lower in the hierarchy an employee is, the more concrete, detailed and practical questions he/she will pose. For detailed and practical questions, try to avoid answering concretely, but assure the team that all questions will have your attention in the days to come.
Moving on, the first 30 days should primarily be devoted to listening and learning, and diagnosing the organization and the company—concurrently building personal credibility.
Many leaders transitioning into a new position have a compulsive need to take action right away.
They want to demonstrate decisiveness and the ability to make a difference from the start. Moreover, needing to start learning again can fuel feelings of incompetence, inferiority and vulnerability, so in order to reinforce feelings of self-worth, many leaders exit the learning phase much too soon, rather than appreciating the value of expanding one’s repertoire of insights.
Building a learning platform should be seen as one of your most important investments in the executive onboarding phase. With limited time and resources, you must navigate across multiple stakeholders in order to put the pieces together of a gigantic and complex puzzle. If you do not invest the necessary time and energy in this exercise, you may very well end up making the wrong diagnosis and subsequently prescribe the wrong strategy going forward.