Avoid Career-Damaging Job Transitions – Part 2: Hit the Ground Running

In last week’s blog post, we focused on assessing with clarity whether an opportunity is the right fit for you. In this post, we will explore how best to approach your on-boarding into a new company so you get traction quickly.

A Very Rough Landing

She came in with the reputation of a corporate “rock star.” We’ll call her Paula. She was considered a key player at a highly successful applications company and widely credited with helping to build up an Alliances program that had exceeded its target metrics for six years in a row and in some ways was the envy of the industry. People talked in the hallways during her first week. “That’s her. That’s Paula. She’s the one who’s here to ramp up our Alliances.”

I was in the leadership meeting when she was “given the floor” to talk about her plans. She leaned back in her chair, talked about how she would bring in her playbook, and immediately outlined how she would revamp the partner program to drive more partnership fees. There was an awkward silence that she didn’t appear to notice, and I could tell by the looks on people’s faces that they were having the same reaction I was. At our company, we were trying to drive more revenue with partners, not frompartners. The “myth” shattered fairly quickly as people realized that she thrived under a different game-plan and set of objectives that were nothing like ours. She lost the confidence of the team and never recovered from her early misstep.

“Non-Portable Assets”

Your on-boarding process is a compressed 90 day period for you to secure “quick wins” and cement yourleadership position in the company. And when you’ve had a great track record of success, it’s natural to assume that it was entirely due to your own talents and hard work. While talent and hard work count for a lot, the fast-pace and pressure of the high-tech workplace and the wildly-different corporate styles and individual personalities are also significant factors in determining your success or failure. What steps can you take to make sure that you avoid stepping into potholes or tripping up on stumbling blocks that will derail your success in your new company?

It starts with the concept of “non-portable assets.” While you can take your talent and work ethic anywhere, you may not realize how many non-portable assets you have that made you successful in your previous role. And just like your desk phone and your file cabinet, these things stay behind at your old job, and are replaced with new ones at your new job. You simply can’t take them with you. Recreating them in a new role essentially amounts to “learning the system” – adapting your skills and approach to the new environment. Here’s how to recreate these assets in your new role, so that your upward trajectory accelerates instead of stalling out in your new job:

  • Your Reputation Is Yesterday’s News – Although your professional experience and accomplishments had everything to do with you getting your new job, they mean nothing to the people who you’ll be leading because they weren’t there to see you in action. On your first day, your new manager will probably send a nice note to the department or company stating how excited he is to have you on board. He may even mention your great track record, citing some accomplishments that you probably scripted for him. But unless you’re a family member of the CEO, you’ll need to get big wins under your belt at the new company before you get that “rock star” designation that was previously so familiar. As new leader, your great success in prior roles doesn’t automatically get you on-the-ground and in-the-trenches respect. In fact, raised expectations will make success even harder for you to achieve. Leave your reputation in the past and focus on creating your new list of big wins.
  • Be a “Student” First, a “Master” Second – When changing jobs, you know what it’s like to go from “having all of the answers” to “having all of the questions.” In your previous company, you knew how to get things done in that environment i.e. people, process and tools. You also knew a lot about the product and market e.g. customers, competitors, etc. However, any new company is going to be a step back for you on all of these fronts. On top of that, if you are changing industries, say from an on-premise database company to a SaaS applications company, you’ll be in a very steep ramp-up for a while. As eager as you are to make a big impact and as much as you may put pressure on yourself to quickly implement visible change, the worst thing you can do to is to make impulsive decisions without being fully informed. When I was at Hyperion Solutions, Jon Temple joined as the new head of field operations. He spent 3 months meeting with key managers and individual contributors before he laid out his master plan. He was in active learning mode and gathering facts about what worked well and what was broken. Jon’s investment to get the perspective of the team didn’t just help him make better decisions; it rallied people to get behind his plan because they knew it was a fully informed decision.
  • Make Deposits in Your (Empty) Goodwill Bank Account - Driving big initiatives in any company requires strong collaboration and influence. But the ability to influence others is something that accrues over time e.g. when you help a colleague hit a critical deadline, when you adjust your priorities to support another organization, or when you give someone advice that makes them look like a corporate hero. Unless you’re working for a company where the executives are “getting the band back together”, you don’t have any of that on Day 1, except that the people who hired you have a vested interest in you being successful. Think of it this way: you have zero “credits in the bank” (also known as “political capital”) and you have to rebuild your “account balance” (relationships, favors, etc.) to get back to the level of influence you had previously. Without support, you will have a hard, lonely, and treacherous path ahead. Make a list, or use the org chart to identify what individuals are most important to your success. Put a plan in place to use your ramp-up period to build those relationships and get some quick wins. And don’t over-commit. If you’re a new sales ops leader working with various sales executives, don’t ask for the laundry-list of things that could be improved and then commit to solve it all in only 30 days. Look for common pain points and pick one or two that you can address within a reasonable time frame. Then your “account balance” will begin to rise quickly.

Changing jobs presents great challenges and learning opportunities. And with some luck you make be in a perfect position to capitalize on that opportunity with the next Silicon Valley breakout company. However, there are no guarantees. Trying to replicate success by just repeating what worked for you before will jeopardize a positive, favorable outcome career-wise (a meaningful “stint”) and financially (stock option vesting). Approach your next career transition with objective clarity and a practical assessment of how your skills and experience will flourish in the “new system.” Sustainable leaders don’t let their egos get in the way of their own success. Instead, they adapt and even grow new leadership skills in all situations. Paula was able to make these adjustments in her next transition and the word on the street was that she acclimated well and was very successful.

What other perspectives do you have in preparing for a successful on-boarding? We appreciate your comments.


Written by

The ExecCatalyst blog covers topics related to leadership, career advancement, hiring, finding the right job, company cultures and office politics, and general management. The authors have extensive experience in high-tech in Silicon Valley and elsewhere and have gained experience at small, fast-moving startups as well as large, global technology firms.

1 Response to "Avoid Career-Damaging Job Transitions – Part 2: Hit the Ground Running"

  1. Crystal Cook says:

    I am so happy that someone took the time to say this!!!

    No matter how great you are at doing your job, changing organizations means exactly that, changing. Whether you are making a change within the same industry or not is irrelevant to being a “Rock Star” from day one. Often employers say they want someone to come in and hit the ground running. We all want to believe that we can do just that because we are great at what we do. The reality is that we often hit the ground running in the wrong direction and then find ourselves in a fun (horror) house of mirrors and can’t find our way out.

    It is a great practice to take at least three weeks, preferably a month or more, to truly observe your environment, the cultural dynamics, the processes and procedures and the people. Get to know them and how they work. This time spent is invaluable at creating lasting value for yourself with your new employer. “Seek first to understand rather than being understood.” The trust you build by building strong relationships will follow you throughout your career and set you on the path to being a “Rock Star” anywhere you go!