You’ve accepted the offer and negotiated your start date. Now what? If you plan to show up and do your best, you’re still thinking like an individual contributor.
As a leader, you’re being watched by a jumble of people in your group and across the organization who are excited and fearful about how their world will change because of the decisions you make. They are studying you from the moment you set foot inside the company or get on your first conference call.
You want to be in learning mode, but you can’t start clueless. So what will you do between now and your start date to set yourself up for success?
- Look more deeply. You researched before you began to interview, diving into public sources and pumping your network for information. Now it’s time to inquire more deeply, to change your question from “Do I want to work for this company?” to “How can I thrive as a leader in this company?” and “What does my team need to do to succeed? Ask for any significant internal documents you can read ahead of time—business plan, product roadmap, budget, whatever is relevant to understanding your group.
- Draft your strategic one-pager. Write a coherent one-page summary of the state and trends of your industry, company, division/function, and team. Given this, how can your teams – your peer team as well as your direct reports – create more value?
- Write your own on-boarding plan. Follow the lead of Michael Thompson, an experienced senior executive who writes his 120-day plan before he starts. His plan makes a handy discussion-starter for that final interview with the CEO, as well as a guide to those whirlwind first weeks.
- Build relationships before you start. From Offer Day to Start Day, never have coffee alone. Engage with people in your new world as early as possible. When one of my interviewees was promoted to VP of Engineering at a global software company, he headed to the airport to go see his former peers in several countries—before the promotion announcement. He spent a day 1:1 with each key team member at a comfortable spot out of the office, sharing his thoughts about where to take the company, gaining input, and helping each see a positive future with his leadership.
- Freshen up. What do you absolutely need to clean up before you start? Your task management system? Your car? Your relationship? If you’ve got a personal issue to solve in the next three months, see if you can get it 80% handled before you start. Calendar the top things that keep you healthy and sane, such as working out and getting good sleep.
- Navigate the technology-switch trap. You come into a new role, raring to make strategic decisions. Instead, you spend hours trying to make your new Android talk to your company-issued Windows laptop and your home Mac so you can access critical files in the company’s proprietary info-management system. Before your start, figure out what programs you’ll need for calendar, tasks, and access to company data, learn any crucial new programs, and plan the technology transition. Whether you have a day or a month before you start: learn what you can, develop initial hypotheses about what’s going on, identify your top focus areas, and make your plan. Then, be intensely open to learning more and rethinking your plan.
For guidance on what to do your first week on the job, see Rule 5 “Take Charge of Your Start” in 42 Rules for Your New Leadership Role.