“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
What’s the most important tool to ensuring your success in a new role?
It’s actually simpler than you might think. The single most important tool you can have to ensure success in your new role is a plan. Yes, a plan.
No matter how great you are at leading teams or building relationships, if you wander into any role without a plan, you are leaving your success up to chance and giving away power to the small fires and other-people’s-schedule problems that always keep us one step behind.
If you have a plan, on the other hand, you ensure:
- You have developed short-term and long-term goals for yourself, which makes you much more likely to achieve those goals
- You have tangible ways to measure your success
- That you are steadily working towards the next step in your career (whether that’s another promotion or gaining enough experience to found your own startup, etc.) – and that you know what that next step even is
- You know where you need to grow and you prioritize that growth
If you want to be awesome in your new role, you need to develop a plan before you even set foot in your new office! Today, we are going to show you how to do just that.
“But, how do I develop a plan?”
If you haven’t even set foot in your new office, you’re probably wondering how you could possibly know what goals to set before you spend time in the role.
However, there’s actually a lot you can find out about your role before your first day. What is your new job description? What has this team been working on in recent weeks? What are the principles driving their work?
Each person is going to have different goals based on the position they’re taking. But for everyone, they’ll be based on a number of the same kinds of things: what is expected of you in this role, what you hope to accomplish for the team, what your next desired career step is, etc.
Try taking a few minutes to plot out a few goals so you can hit the ground running. What do you already know about this role, this team, and what work needs to be done? You probably know more than you think, so try putting it on paper now so you have something to work with.
If you’re struggling to define your goals or aren’t sure where to start:
- Talk to a mentor.
- Find someone who has had your role in the past and ask them what they did. What worked for them? What didn’t? Any mistakes they made that they can give you a heads up on?
You can also get personal advice too: ask them what they wanted to accomplish when they were at your level in their career. What goals did they set early on in their career? It can even be helpful to ask what goals they think you should be setting at this point.
Your mentor should be someone who you can trust, and who is going to give you honest feedback. In fact, it’s best to have multiple conversations so you can get several viewpoints and ideas; you don’t have to use all of them, but having multiple perspectives can help you pinpoint the biggest common themes that are most important to your success. This input should play a significant role in helping you define your goals. After all, the people you talk to have been in your shoes and they want to see you succeed.
Talk to your peers.
When you’re getting advice from peers, aim to talk to the *best* people on your level. Why? Because you want to be the best too, so you don’t want to bother asking B and C players for their best tips. Instead, pick the people on your new level who you’d most like to be like, and see if they would be willing to chat for a few minutes.
Ask them what their experience has been in their role. How long have they had this title? What have been their biggest challenges?
This will help you identify common issues that you want to pre-emptively target in your goals. Find out what goals they’ve set for themselves. Use these as a starting point for your own goals. For example, if it seems like the best people on your level are all struggling with developing influential relationships, that gives *you* insight about a good place to focus on in your own work.
Talk to your new manager.
Your superiors will undoubtedly have an idea of what it means for you be successful in your role. It’s okay to ask them up-front, “how do I succeed in this role?” – in fact, it’s smart to! They promoted you into this role for a reason, so asking what they need you to do is a great way to make sure you’re working on the right goals from day one.
They’ve seen the best and the worst of employees in your exact position which means they can isolate what is and isn’t helpful in that role. Use these “do’s” and “do not’s” to avoid pitfalls and quickly latch on to strategies that are proven to work.
Find out their biggest priorities, pain points, and hopes for the team. When you know these, you’ll have information about how you can make the biggest impact possible. Ideally, you want to secure an early win in your new role, and so making a splash on one of the biggest team priorities is a great way to do that.
Turn that focus inward.
Input from others is useful; but only to a certain extent. You also have to do a certain amount of introspection and self-analysis to find out the ways that *you* can really make an impact.
This part can be really hard work, but before you can create goals that will ensure your success, you need to think about the keys to your success.
Ask questions like:
- How can I play to my strengths?
You undoubtedly have some magnificent strengths that were recognized by others and landed you this promotion! But what are those things? How can you maximize those strengths in this new role?
- What skills am I missing?
All of us have *something* we are missing or could put more effort into to be more awesome at our jobs – and when you are new to a job, there are likely whole new areas you’ve never had to deal with before that you need to acquire some skills or experience in.
Start by taking a hard, long look at what you’ve always struggled with in your career. Think about past performance reviews and any recurring themes in feedback you’ve gotten. Maybe you struggle with forming personal connections? Meeting deadlines? Proactive communication? Whatever your weaknesses are, working on them now will get you a lot further in your career than pretending they don’t exist.
- How can I acquire those skills?
In other words, create a simple action plan for overcoming the weaknesses and missing skills you identified above.
An easy way to think through this question is to first ask, “What would it look like if I were better at ___.” For example, let’s say you’re not great at communication. So first, you should ask, “What would better communication look like for me at work?”
This helps you identify a few things you could do to improve your communication. Then ask, “How can I get better or learn how to do each of these things?”.
These answers can take many forms: maybe it’s taking a course on effective presentation skills, reading an article on how to write a great status mail, and mimicking the behavior of a few leaders you know who do great 1:1 meetings. Choose a few courses of action to help you bring your missing skills up to speed so you’re not leaving any areas unexplored in your new role.
- What do people on my new team need from me?
This might be another question where you need input from others, but the focus is really on what *you* need to provide. Even without surveying your team you can probably guess the qualities that are going to be valued in a leader. Think about what you have liked and not liked in leaders before. Think about people who inspire you and what they do differently.
Do you possess the traits you admire already? How can you acquire or improve those that you don’t possess?
Enough talk. Action time!
The hardest part of developing goals can be translating advice & introspection into real-life actionable behaviors. However, this is of course the most important part.
To get started, look at all the information you’ve gathered in the previous steps of this post. Write it all out in a notebook or on a whiteboard so you can see the biggest themes and ideas next to each other. Pick out the most helpful or inspiring tidbits of input you’ve gotten from your mentor, your peer(s), and your manager. And of course, do some reflecting on which things feel the most important/urgent/tactical to tackle first.
Now, create actionable behaviors.
The best way to make action plans actually happen is to lay out in advance how you’ll plan to make progress, make that progress, and then check in on your progress to make sure things are moving forward.
Here is one template to help you craft your goals and actionable behaviors:
I want to _______________________ (let’s say, for example, “run effective meetings”).
I’m going to run effective meetings by doing the following:
- Creating an agenda the night before each meeting & sending it to my entire team.
- Setting goals for the meeting.
- Delegating a note-taker at each meeting.
- Send out meeting notes immediately after the meeting.
I will check in on my goal of running effective meetings by this deadline: ___________ (let’s say, 3 months from now.)
By that point I want my entire team to agree that our meetings are as efficient and streamlined as possible.
Another handy template for setting goals is to use the SMART model:
Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
Assignable – specify who will do it.
Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
Stock your toolbox.
Now that you know your goals, your timeline, and the actionable behaviors that are going to help you achieve those goals on time, you need tools. These tools are going to be whatever will be critical to helping you reach your goals.
If you are struggling with interpersonal relationships, maybe you need to learn how to be less awkward. Or you need to schedule a weekly 1:1 on your calendar to encourage you to meet with someone new from your team each week in order to build trust and get to know them.
Perhaps, you need to purchase books or a leadership course.
Whatever it is that you need to reach your goals, get it now! These small investments will go a long way in cultivating the skills, relationships, or behaviors you need to succeed.
If you take one step a day towards getting better (reading 10 pages in a book, taking 1 coffee meeting – simple things) the compound value of these actions will add up significantly over time. It is by continuing to provide yourself with the tools and the time that you need that you will truly become amazing in your new role.
Always, always, always have a timeline.
Write down where you’d like to be in 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year from today. What do you want to accomplish by the time you hit each of those milestones?
Even if you develop awesome goals and attach actionable behaviors to those goals, if you don’t have a “deadline” for reaching each goal, it can be easy to keep putting it off. Especially if you are doing an “alright” job at running meetings (insert whatever your goal is here), it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “Well this is fine for now. I have more pressing things on my plate.”
When you reach a “deadline” for a goal, have a method of assessment that suits your goals.
How are you going to assess your success? When you develop your goal, you must also create and plan to have a review process for yourself.
Here are some ideas:
- Create a feedback cycle: you can use an survey of the people on your team to get feedback on your performance after 3 months, 6 months, etc.
- Do “Happiness Interviews” with open-ended questions about things you want feedback on. These are a great way not just to get feedback, but to build trust and relationships by having face-to-face conversations about success, culture, and happiness with your team.
- Conduct a 360 review to get anonymous feedback your performance from the of the people you work with, and suggestions for where you shine, where you need to improve, and new ideas for you to be even better.
If none of these fit your goals, you might have to think outside the box and figure out how you’ll know when you’ve (successfully!) achieved your goal.
As you start working on your goals, you are going to run into hurdles, encounter unforeseen obstacles, and modify your initial goals. It’s just a part of the process. The important thing is to continually develop and work towards goals. Even if you hit some road bumps along the way, you’ll get a lot further than if you wander aimlessly into a role without setting up some outcomes for yourself.
“If you don’t know exactly where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free