Beyond the First 90 Days

Entire books have been written about the importance of the first 90 days in a new job. Those first 3 months are the critical make or break time – the “probationary” period – when the employer decides if you’re worth retaining and if you’re performing up to par.

Knowing that all eyes are upon you, you give it your best effort, work your tail off, and aim for impressing the boss. The three months pass and you’ve made it!

You’ve done a good job, set the bar high, and given the mindsets of most employers, they will be asking even more of you.

Then what? How can you sustain that pace, that level of commitment and performance beyond the first 90 days?

How do you manage to take on new projects, with the same resources, and still do a good job?

Here are tips that I’ve gleaned from my own corporate experience and during the last ten years I’ve spent coaching senior level executives:

  • Learn to under promise and over deliver. No one can keep up a 24/7 schedule without burnout. Look at your workload realistically and determine what you can do in a day or a week that still affords you some down time. If you’ve achieved small, but key wins in your first weeks, explore how those wins can be duplicated to address similar issues.
  • Who are the most important stakeholders? Who do you need to satisfy first, i.e. who holds the power in your department, or in the organization? Influential people are your direct boss/or client, or high profile contributors whose voice is valued in the organization. Projects for those stakeholders get moved to the top of the list. If you determine your priorities using that filter you can’t go wrong. In addition, kudos you earn from that population will go a long way in strengthening your reputation.
  • Negotiate the deadline while adding value. Offer the client/boss an additional, valuable project piece that doesn’t require much additional effort. By taking that approach, you may impress the client/boss with your ability to see the bigger picture while giving yourself some breathing room. All with little additional work.
  • Gather third party endorsements and continue to build peer/client relationships. There’s nothing like your boss hearing how wonderful you are directly from a satisfied user or client. Once you’ve started to build peer relationships, you can ask for and start gathering e-mails and comments about your good work. I’m not suggesting you ask anyone to immediately send a complimentary e-mail to your boss. However, collect those remarks and e-mails for future use. These endorsements provide real world, powerful examples of your contributions and represent valuable leverage you can use during your performance appraisal.
  • Setting objectives with your boss. Your boss probably hired you hoping you’d make an immediate contribution. Perhaps little was said about long-term objectives when you came on board. Further, many companies have a 90-day probationary period, which may preclude your boss from having long-range planning discussions during that time. They want to see what you can deliver and the impact you will have. After your initial 3 months, you need to have the objective-setting discussion with your boss. You’ve had 3 months to experience the culture, working style and expectations of your company and you will now be in a better position to help frame a goal-setting discussion with your boss.

Answer these questions before the discussion: what do you see as the long-term needs of your user group/function? How might these needs be addressed given what you’ve learned so far? Can you succinctly outline the issues and suggest solutions? What solutions would have the most impact, and create the most goodwill, for your boss first, and then, for you? And finally, what additional resources could you request in order to handle your new responsibilities? If you go into a goal-setting meeting with answers to the above questions, your boss will be impressed with the scope of your thinking and the thought you’ve put into the process. Even if s/he doesn’t agree with all of your proposed solutions, you’ll have progressed a long way towards being in control of your destiny.

After the first 90 days, use your knowledge of how the organization operates combined with the needs of the key players to develop a work plan. A plan that allows you to function by giving your best, but not necessarily your all.