Start Strong: Your First 30 Days In A New Job

For this article by Jo Ilfeld, Executive Leadership Coach on starting strong in a new job the image shows an empty road with the words start on it.

“I got the job!” is a frequent text I get from clients – who calls these days? My clients are high performers and they want to aim even higher. New jobs and roles are an occupational hazard for many successful leaders. It’s hard to keep moving up unless you’re willing to take on new challenges, new responsibilities, and new colleagues.

Michael D. Watkins wrote the famous book “The First 90 Days” about how to conquer the challenges of starting a new role. And he’s right, the first 90 days do count.

But I would wager that the first 30 days are even more important. This is the time period when people start forming their first impressions of you; it’s also when the water-cooler talk starts around the company about you, the new hire. The first 30 days are when you have the best chance to set your brand reputation up for success.

So when I finally get my clients on the line to hear about their big new job, this is the advice I always give them.

Dr. Jo’s Top Three Secrets to a Strong Start in a New Role

1. Start by listening. . . A LOT! I know you’ve heard this before and you’re nodding in agreement. But I also know there’s a voice inside your head saying, “Prove your worth!” A voice that urges you to show leadership that they picked the right person for the job. Please, please ignore that voice! This is the voice that will cause you to insert your less knowledgeable opinion into someone’s project to impact it. This is the voice that will earn you your first on-the-job adversary who can’t believe they have to report to someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. This is the voice of insecurity – not the voice of wisdom. Insecurity tells you that to be “worthy” you need to take action and accomplish things. Wisdom, however, tells you that this function was here before you came, and it will be here after you’re gone, and at this point, they know A LOT more than you. So observe and listen to them. What’s been tried and failed? What are the ideas people keep ignoring? What do people there most notice and pay attention to? For now, put your interview promises and good ideas you are anxious to implement on hold and simply LISTEN for most of your 30 days. By the end of it, your ideas will be sharper and you’ll have more people on your side willing to help you with your next play to make things better. 

2. Take note of the crowd-appointed leaders. Often we assume that the people with the biggest titles are the leaders of the department. However, it’s worth holding that assumption lightly until you’ve seen many more meetings. Who are the leaders that everyone listens to? Whose opinion is solicited before people agree on a path? Who sits in the office are people swinging by after the meeting to “get their impression”? In many groups, there are undercover leaders who earn a lot more respect and deference than their titles might suggest. Make sure you know who those key players are in your function, and in your company. Once you know who they are, you can go back to the first secret and listen to them. . . EVEN MORE!

3. Journal daily. For the first 30 days of a job there is a lot of data and information coming at you daily. Taking 10-15 minutes to reflect daily allows you time and space to process what you’re seeing and hearing so that you can start to pick out the most important piecesthat will help you do your job well and see what systems you are noticing within this new environment. In your daily journal focus on these three areas: 

  • Business or org purpose: What did I learn today and what stands out the most? What surprised me the most? How (or from whom) did I learn this?
  • Function or org culture: When did I see “culture” at work in my org today? What did I observe in action? How did I feel as I observed it (curious, questioning, excited, annoyed, etc.)?
  • Promises: What promises did I make today and how confident am I in being able to fulfill them? What promises did others make to me today and how will I know if they meet their promises? 

Organizations are systems and systems have a footprint that tells you about what works there and why. Journaling for the first month is a great shortcut to understanding the underlying dynamics and patterns at play around you. Once you have enough observations to really read the tea leaves, stop and review your previous journal entries. Do they all seem to be fitting into the coherent picture that you’re putting together of your new org, or is there still more there that you don’t yet know how it fits in with the whole? The first step to being successful in a new system is to understand how it functions. Otherwise, it’s like trying to play pickleball or cricket without understanding the rules; just knowing the adjacent sports of tennis and baseball won’t lead you to true mastery. It’s the same with your new organization: take the time to step back so you can truly absorb how the flow of information and execution works. 

Don’t get me wrong, it can happen that you are immediately thrown into chaos and action is needed to create more stability in your organization, or you are being told by everyone how imperative it is that you act right away. In my experience, however, less intervention is usually needed than you’re tempted to do in the first 30 days. Ultimately, my advice to those starting a new job is — ACT with caution, LISTEN and observe with abandon. Then you’ll have earned your rap as a true genius and collaborator.

Posted in

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

Leave a Comment