Starting a new job can be an exciting time for anyone. Depending on the personality, the first few months can be filled with lots of anticipation, relief, excitement, or agitation. And if that new position comes with a need to make changes or improvements, some people will want to jump right in and start “fixing things” before they fully understand the current structure of their new organization. In my professional career, I have used the 3-6-9-12 approach. It takes three months to understand the current job, six months to implement new ideas and changes, and close to a full year to make it feel like you have mastered the position. A year-long progression is vital to understanding your new position and what you need for success.
First Three Months
Getting yourself prepared for a new position is critical, so take the time to do more research about the company and the people you will be working with before you walk through the door. Go over your offer letter and be prepared with any documents you might need. Expect that you will need payroll documents ready to hand in the first few days you start. Also have a plan for where you need to go to get to the office with plenty of time to spare. Settle into your new surroundings, learn the phone system and workstation setup, and speak to the receptionist or office manager to understand the specifics of the office. Set up a meeting for the first morning with your direct supervisor to discuss your immediate role.
For the first few days afterward, listen. It might be tempting to come out of the gate and offer suggestions to improve glaring imperfections, but don’t. Take it all in and make a plan. There will be time for improvements and suggestions, but not in the first few weeks. You want to get an understanding of the existing processes before you address how to make changes.
Keep in mind the organization has reasons for its existing processes. Maybe there are personality conflicts or administrative issues you could not possibly know at the outset. You won’t discover these types of clashes in your first few days. Become an investigator and work to understand the reasons behind the existing method. You will also want to know about the existing work flow and understand who is assigned to each task. Find out who is in charge. Maybe an organizational chart will help you understand the roles of each person in your department. Create a flowchart to explain the transactional flow of the work and understand each employee’s role in a specific project. To fully absorb all of the process, this will take you up to three months of regular observance and scrutiny.
Three to Six Months
After a few months you can probably locate a decent lunch place, but you also will now recognize the different functions in your department and have a better understanding of office personalities.
At the three-to-six-month mark, you now can delve deeper into your responsibilities and fine-tune your plan. You will begin to answer the following questions: Why did they hire me? What aspects of my background can I use at this new position to help the organization? Where can improvements be made? Who and what are the strongest assets in my department to help achieve our goals? The answers to these questions help with the next phase of establishing best practices.
Don’t shy away from tougher projects. Instead, attack them with full force and know you can achieve victory. Take the time to examine each detail of the obstacle. Ask for help from those around you, either a subordinate or a manager. And always ask a lot of questions. You won’t get the right details unless you ask the right questions.
Six to Nine Months
Now is the fun part! With all the research and details you have gathered over the past six months, you want to start thinking about what is the best process and how to implement it. You want to think about making changes to the existing structure and get everyone on board with your plans. It is crucial to include those around you in the decision-making process instead of surprising them with something new. Change can be a positive step in the right direction, and you need to make sure you emphasize how your proposed change is the best way forward.
Always check with your direct supervisor before implementing changes or document the changes first to show why the new way will be a better method. An e-mail, a presentation, or just a quick sit-down meeting will go a long way to moving your cause forward.
You cannot afford to surprise those involved. Change management is a topic that has been reviewed and studied by many professionals over the years. It will be worth your time and effort to research the topic you are working on and determine what the best practices are in the industry.
Always strive to find cost-saving efficiencies that will cement your new ideas. This is one of the best ways to get the attention of your direct supervisor and get your concepts the attention they deserve. If you can’t find the best ways to save money, then at least try to explain the efficiency of your new idea.
By this point, you should have established a support network at work. This process should begin on the first day you start and continue every day thereafter. You need to keep these allies close so you can discuss your plans and ambitions for the position as you are going through the learning curve. It is always good to check in from time to time with your support group to make sure you are on the right track with the implementation of new ideas.
Nine to 12 Months
Once you have been through the full cycle of a project, you now have a better understanding of your expectations.
It will all come together, and you will be able to answer questions on the spot and not have to refer back to your notes or another person’s feedback. You will have the confidence to make decisions and work to make improvements and tackle new assignments. You also will have the respect of your peers and managers, which will help you implement your ideas. Of course, there are some projects you cannot wait a year to implement.
In your new role, you might be expected to change policies quicker, and you will need to work through some issues at a fast pace. You still will need to ascertain the best methodology of execution for your plans. Try to think of all the angles before rushing into a “quick fix” that breaks down over time.
Whether it is being in charge of financial data, running an office as operations manager, or reevaluating the company’s technology structure, every position needs a fresh look at least every year, which can be time-consuming. It is a good idea to take a step back and involve others with collaborative discussions. And remember to evaluate over the long term, and don’t jump into work without an established and well-defined plan.
Alyse F. Driscoll, CPA, is director of operations for Attolon Partners LLC in Philadelphia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.