Stephen Pisano via Flickr

Stephen Pisano via Flickr

It’s common knowledge that the first 90 days in a role are crucial for establishing oneself. As a leader, it’s the time for learning about your new team and environment, making connections and taking the first actions that will contribute to your budding reputation in this new context.

Some are able to glide through this period from an emotional standpoint. They figure that “drinking from the fire hose”, as the over-used expression goes, is just part of the process and it’s a win if they don’t drown.

Then there are the high achievers (you know who you are) who expect to operate at outstanding levels, always. They can see what they want to make happen in the future and want to be a superstar from day one. But is this a fair expectation? Just as many sports have divisions – by gender, age, weight class – to ensure a fair game, you must be fair to yourself. You can’t match where you were just weeks earlier, where you played in the Expert division at your old role. Rather, you must join the Ramp Up division. You can still be outstanding, but the question to consider is: “what does outstanding ramp up look like?”

If you’re stressed out about demonstrating your awesomeness, know that by focusing on these 6 areas (in no particular order), you’re doing what’s needed for outstanding ramp up:

1) Seek clarity: Ask lots of questions about anything you don’t understand. Write down the things you don’t quite get and ask your boss, your mentor, your peers or your team. It will accelerate the rate at which you grasp the context in which you’re operating. Too often, people think they won’t look smart if they ask too many questions, but doing so
a) surfaces questions that others don’t know the answer to, and so highlights places to dig deeper, and
b) demonstrates the openness and humility that makes ‘the new guy/gal’ likeable and approachable.

2) Carve outflow time’: A client of mine uses the term ‘flow time’ to mean chunks of quiet, uninterrupted time to digest, process and produce thoughtful work. Ask about the necessity of attending meetings and/or ask to shorten meetings you’re invited to. Particularly at more senior levels, you’ll be asked to be in the room often. Negotiate tactfully to make sure you use your time wisely.

3) Communicate, communicate, communicate: Make sure the person you report to knows what you’re up to and that it’s valuable. Book consistent check-in meetings, and if it’s not possible to check in each week or two, send a summary of highlights and wins in place of the discussion. It doesn’t have to be mind-blowing material, but it shows you’re making progress. For example, your note may say something like, “Had an insightful conversation with Tim that emphasized the need to speak to the US team and ensure we’re working in tandem. Booked a meeting with the US for Tuesday”. Not huge, but clearly significant.
A critical note: when you get a compliment on something you think is a no-brainer, do not dismiss it! This is a common blunder among high-achievers.

4) Get exposure to the top people. Ensure the influencers in your organization know that you’re a sharp thinker and that you’re making things happen. Look out for appropriate opportunities to attend meetings where they’ll be present, deliver things directly, etc. Make sure key people know your name and your intentions.

5) Take action: Focus on a short-term project that is of interest to the aforementioned “top people”. Don’t worry just yet about the big innovative project/process/overhaul you’ve envisioned for the future. Be the hero in making something bite-size but important happen well and happen now.

6) Be happy: Remember what brings you joy and make sure you don’t lose touch with those things in your life during this busy time. Be extra conscious to read fiction on your commute, go to yoga, play your guitar, put your kids to bed, or whatever makes you smile and breathe a little more deeply for a few minutes each day.

None of this is about lowering the bar. It’s about being strategic and staying focused when you’re first starting. You’ll feel calmer, you’ll get noticed and you’ll make headway. Easier said than done? Yes. Doable? Totally.