Assume you're going to have to "onboard" yourself
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Gracious reader,

When you start a job -- whether it's your first or your n-th -- you want to go in, sit down at your workstation, and start achieving.

It's not usually this seamless.  Tactics that worked in school, or earlier jobs, may not work.  You may work for an unskilled manager.  Maybe the job you thought you were hired for isn't the job you're asked to do. 

Yes, I've had all of these experiences, too.  I've learned that you can't prepare for every possibility.  And, you can prepare.
Before your first day

Ideally, before you start, your employer will let you know what to expect. 
  • Admin.  You'll have forms to complete.  Hopefully your job comes with benefits, and you'll need to make choices there, too.  Get this stuff out of the way:  don't make HR chase you down for it.
  • Organizational norms.  What's the organizational history that "everyone" knows?  What time do people arrive at work; what are they wearing?

    This, seemingly, little stuff is important.  Fair or not, adherence to norms signals your care and competency.

  • Relationships  If your manager invites you to lunch before your start date, make time for it.  Reach out to anyone you know in the organization, and let them know you'll be joining.  Your internal network is important in getting things done.  Before you start, if you're not getting direction on what to expect that first day or week, or what to wear?  Tap people you already know.
  • Admin.  Treat formal "onboarding" as a graduate course on your new organization.  Attend all of the functions.  Ask questions.  Take notes.  Complete the assignments.
  • Relationships.  Identify your most important stakeholders -- people whose work will depend on yours.  The usual suspects:  your manager; other team members.  If you're a developer, maybe it's someone in Product.  If you're a designer, you may have internal customers in Communications.  Take time to understand their expectations.
  • Performance.  Ideally, your manager will set goals for your first 30, 60, 90 days, and sit down with you at least every week to discuss how things are going.

    If things aren't "ideal," you'll have to step up.  Take steps to identify your manager's top 3-4 priorities for you, and actions you can take to achieve desired outcomes. 

    When you need to give shape to your work, "SMART" goals are everything.  SMART = specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timebound.  If the goals you get from your manager aren't SMART, neither of you will be able to assess your performance. 

    So do the work.  Articulate your goals in this format, take them to your manager, and ask, is this how I should be prioritizing my work?  Is this what success looks like?

    I say this like it's easy.  It's not. 

    In fact, it may not work.  In some organizations, you may get dragged for wanting to have goals.  It may signal that you're "too corporate." 

    To me, this signals inexperienced management.  And with inexperienced management, your employee experience will be random-ish.  It might be great.  Or not.

    Phone a friend, ask a mentor, talk with a more experienced person in your circle.
Manage this!

Managers, onboarding is not (just) an HR function.  90% of people decide whether to stay or go in the first 6 months on the job.  Formal onboarding doesn't usually last that long.  So, your work matters. 

Make sure that new team members have concrete goals.  Talk with them routinely about how they're doing, and what they need to succeed.  Lend your support and relationship capital so that they can get things done:  their success is your success.

The first 90 days:  Proven Strategies for Getting up to Speed Faster and Smarter by Michael Watkins (library) (Indiebound) offers a roadmap for an employee's success, from the employee's perspective.  IMO every manager should read this book.  Then, you should use it to reverse-engineer a roadmap that will work for your team members, in your organization.

Watkins wrote the book for corporate executives don't expect a lot of direction when joining an organization.  One Amazon reviewer notes that it uses the editorial "he," and only uses "she" when referring to a bad employee. 

Ok, then.  It is imperfect.  And nonetheless useful. 

(It won't hurt for entry-level employees to read this book, but they'll have to figure out what to use and what to toss.  And in my decidedly not-humble-on-this-topic opinion, this is ideally a manager's job.  Managers, in this case, reach for the ideal!)
Here are a couple of related issues from the archives
Do you lead a team?
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