When a nation elects a Prime Minister or President, there’s usually a honeymoon period of around 100 days.
During this time, the incoming leader sets the tone for his or her administration. Typically, the leader gets the benefit of the doubt while opinion makers scrutinise every move and opposition forces regroup.
New leaders often stumble. So long as the mistakes are not too bad, small errors are forgiven.
If the incoming leader gets an early reputation for being accident-prone, the sound of knives sharpening is deafening.
Your new job
It is the same when you move to an executive position with a new employer. There’s often a honeymoon period where colleagues give you breathing space.
There’s no guaranteed way of ensuring knives stay blunt, but there are some smart strategies for ensuring the first days in a role set the right tone for the rest of your stay.
Do what you can to leave on good terms. Make a point of wrapping up unfinished projects and smoothing the path for whoever takes over.
Above all else, it is not wise to sabotage or damage your old employer’s business.
Before you start your job, you need to do research. Drive past your new workplace in the morning or when employees leave the building in the evening. This is a good way of finding out where to park and how long it takes to get to the office in the morning.
If you plan to use public transport to travel to work and the route is unfamiliar, then a dummy run one morning before you start will help find potential travel problems.
You probably already know a little about your employer – particularly if you a moving to a new job in the same industry.
You may have previously worked for a competitor or a business partner. Even so, your previous job will colour your views – it could be wrong. Conducting extra research about the company before starting is smart
Get hold of as much information about the organisation as you can. If they sent you an information packet then make sure you read it.
Make sure you get an early night before your first day. In the morning start by eating a good breakfast including protein. It may be a long time before you get another opportunity to eat.
If you go to work on an empty stomach, the chances are your blood sugar will drop during the late morning and you’ll appear dozy or disoriented.
Small things matter
Being alert is important. While you might be hired to look after the big picture, during the first days in a role little things matter. You need to stay alert and pay attention to details.
Head off extra early: this is one day you can’t be late. If you are using public transport get an earlier train or bus.
Don’t go into the building until the expected time. People may be preparing for your arrival – if possible grab a coffee and relax before entering the building.
If the job is creative, then it makes sense to ask the dress code before starting, otherwise you should dress in your smartest, but most conservative outfit. If you’re too smart, nobody will say anything and you can dress down the next day. If you’re in a T-shirt and jeans but it isn’t a T-shirt kind of workplace, nobody will say much either, but they will notice.
There’s never a problem with standing out on the upside. But avoid the cutting edge of fashion.
What happens when you arrive depends on the company. At a well-organised employer someone will spend the first morning with you to help you find your bearings.
There may be a formal orientation session. During orientation, you should get some printed information, perhaps a company handbook with details of policies and other key information. The contents of these documents can vary greatly. You should also get a guided tour.
The guided tour will take you around the immediate area where you will be working so you can find things like bathrooms, kitchens, coat hangers, light switches and air conditioning controls. It should also take you further afield so you can meet co-workers in other departments and find your way around the wider company.
Of course, you might not get any of this. If so, then ask. In particular ask for a guided tour and if it doesn’t happen, arrange your own.
Figure out who is good
During your first walkabouts, make a point of finding all the colleagues you will be working with and learning what they do. Try to figure out who are important and who are good at what they do. This might be harder than it first appears, but the sooner you find where the smart people are, the sooner you will get results.
Try to socialise with your new colleagues. Make time to talk to colleagues over lunch and afternoon tea.
Some of the key workers are the support staff. They are often the ones who other managers don’t even bother to say hello to.
Typically, support staff know where the bodies are buried and how things work (as opposed to how they should work). Often these are the people who can help you get results.
If you have a senior position, putting these people at ease is even more important
When talking to colleagues during your first two or three months it is important to use the language of inclusion. Try to avoid speaking about “I” instead think about “we” and “us”. Likewise, avoid making constant comparisons with your previous employers. In particular do not fall into the trap of constantly belittling or criticising them – smart colleagues will wonder how long it is before you say the same things about them.
Your criticisms might be valid and your distaste justified, but there will be a feeling your negative attitude remains.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with drawing on your previous experience to illustrate ideas and concepts. But in general, you should speak positively in forward-looking terms and not negatively and backward looking.
As you move around the office, be ready to shake hands with a lot of people, but don’t force the issue if it looks like it will make people uncomfortable and certainly avoid bone-crushing handshakes.
Try to make eye contact with everyone, but again, don’t force the issue if others seem shy or nervous.
Take part in any company induction programs – no matter how senior you are.
You may run into hostility during your first days in a job. When this happens, get to the root of the problem as quickly as possible. You need to nip problems in the bud before they get serious.
Finally, while starting a job is stressful, try to relax and keep things in perspective.