How to Crush It In Your First 180 Days at Work
A recent workplace study in the US revealed that about 40% of people leave their jobs within 12 months. Many of them will decide whether or not to pull the plug within 180 days of starting the job. The top three reasons for quitting are “a lack of career development opportunities, work-life balance and poor management.” And of course, there are inevitably people who leave because of a mismatch in the hiring process, and “the job is not what I thought it’d be.”
On the other hand, there are plenty of employees who don’t leave. They stay despite the setbacks, and succeed in learning new skills and move up in their careers. Why do they stay and others leave? The stayers are proactive. These workers also suffer through burnout, but bounce back stronger than before. Bad managers are everywhere, but savvy employees learn how to “manage up,” and use the situation to their advantage. Work may require extra hours, but through self-management and time management, people take control of their workloads.
A while back Amazon employees came out of the woodwork to decry their excessive overtime. Some of them truly had a tough time. But let‘s not forget there are also plenty of working moms, full time executives and happy employees who go home before 4 pm or work from their living rooms (I know several). This is not to justify Amazon’s HR policies, which could certainly use some improvement, but success comes from not only your company environment or match for the role, but a range of factors including personal experience, EQ, soft skills (people skills), managing expectations, your mindset, and of course a hint of luck.
Because your company has not been great at on-boarding you doesn’t mean that you will fail. You can take the mindset of a victim (or an entitled employee), or you can create a strategy to increase your chances of success in the first few months. Ultimately, you have to take ownership of your own career. If you don’t, then who will?
The good news is that you actually have an advantage as the rookie employee. It means you can ask lots of questions, take the opportunity to create new habits, and even enjoy the “honeymoon period” of getting to know people. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, of course. You are charting new territory, establishing new processes, and figuring out how to manage the various relationships within the organization. To successfully navigate these critical first months, you need a new game plan. Here are some ways to make sure you crush it in the first 180 days!
#1 Use The Jentz and Murphy Technique (Ask Stupid Questions Early)
“I was bitten by a turtle when I was a young lad. Should I still drink orange juice?” – Anonymous question that has no answer
Contrary to what your grandmother told you, there are such things as stupid questions. Asking big, fundamental questions that challenge ideas or set processes are powerful at any stage in your career. However, asking a basic question several months into your job, like “how do I use the content management system (CMS) system?” will not earn you any brownie points, and could even put your skills into question.
One employee I knew hadn’t learned to use Google Calendar properly – she would always invite people during times when they weren’t available. When you don’t know how to use a basic tool (no matter how basic), it’s not a big deal as long as you ask in the first few days/weeks. When you wait a year to ask, however, people are going to seriously wonder what else you’re doing wrong.
The longer you put off asking a question, the harder it will be to ask later. This is some sort of law of nature. Fortunately, the first few weeks you are totally in a safe-zone, and you should be getting out as many questions as you possibly can. When you’re overwhelmed or unsure of what to do, use the Jentz and Murphy Technique lined out in these five steps:
- Embrace confusion. Internally acknowledge you don’t know what the hell is going on. Don’t let yourself off the hook until you figure out an answer.
- Assert your need to make sense. Tell the person involved/trainer/boss, “This new information just doesn’t make sense to me.”
- Structure the interaction. You are asking for directions and saying you don’t know, but reiterate what you do know. This shows that you are learning, and working to connect the dots.
- Listen reflectively and learn. Listen to what the other person is saying and then reiterate what they said, without judging them. “You seem to be saying that x caused y. Do I have that right?”
- Openly process your effort to make sense. If your question was answered, say thanks, and “That helps me a lot by pointing out x.” If you’re still stumped, keep working at it. “That really throws me. How do you get to that from what you were saying?”
#2 Eat Lunch With Everyone
“Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals who can go it alone.” —Margaret Wheatley
Obviously if you’re in a company of 1,000 people, you can’t buy everyone a steak (but you can try). You can definitely rotate lunches with different team members, cross-functional teams, and key people within the organization.
Establish yourself as someone curious, proactive, and hungry. You don’t want to be that weirdo who doesn’t talk to other people, or that’s always eating the dreaded desk lunch and reading Yahoo! news.
You’ll find that it’s harder to reach out to people after the first 90 –180 days because you’ve already established what’s ‘normal’ in your mind. Use the momentum you have from the get-go and build a habit of creating ties within the entire company.
Send them a calendar invite and book the place – make it easy for them. Tell them you’re new and you want to learn about what they’re doing. Prepare lots of questions, like these. You’ll get everyone’s story and all the gossip and useful tips and warnings. You’ll be surprised what people tell you. Oh, and offer to pay, but they’ll probably end up paying for you.
#3 Figure Out Your Boss’s OS
“Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift no heavy-ass weights.” — Ronnie Coleman
Years ago I met a friend for dinner who had recently started a new job, and listened to her complain about her boss for an hour straight. After she was done venting, I asked her a simple question: ‘Have you brought up any of this to your boss?’ She said no, which surprised me considering how tormented she seemed. ‘Well, then what have you done to try and solve any of these issues?’ Again, nothing.
Unfortunately, you won’t always be blessed with an excellent boss who has the perfect mix of traits — the empathy of Oprah, clarity of Bezos and genius of Jobs. Like with any relationship, you have to figure out what makes that person tick, what they like, and what they expect — that’s what ‘managing-up’ is all about. There will be awkward times and growing pains, but as author Tim Ferriss says, “a person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”
Your boss isn’t happy with your work and you’re frustrated. Are the expectations unclear? If not, have you asked for clarification, or brought it up with them? Here’s a great list of tips to remember when managing your boss. And if you have multiple bosses, make sure they are communicating and set up clear boundaries.
Questions to ask your boss that should give you some insight into how they work:
- When someone disappoints you, how do you let that person know? What’s your style?
- How would you have approached this project or situation?
- What’s your preference when it comes to communication?
Keep in mind that your boss has preferences and strange habits just like anyone else – like the previous CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, who was obsessed with making the perfect cupcake and kept multiple spreadsheets detailing her recipes.
#4 Be Interesting
“Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.” — Henry Miller
While you may be a hard worker, you are not a soulless automaton. Sure, you want to give yourself a push every day, especially in the start, but that doesn’t mean sacrificing mental, physical or spiritual health to get there.
The positive habits that you establish from the start will be easier to maintain going forward. Plan an activity every weekend. Go hiking. Join an acroyoga class. Train for a half-marathon. Volunteer. Make it challenging.
Continuous learning isn’t just about staying fresh, though. When people ask you how your weekend was, you’ll be able to always respond. The way to be interesting is to have interests.You’ll make more friends, and you might discover those with common interests. And you’ll be happier.
#5 Help someone every day
“It’s interesting. People go to an animal shelter and pick a dog that’s been kicked, beaten, and has lost a leg and an eye, and they’ll take that dog home and give it love and support, but they don’t do that with people.” — Nikki Sixx
Imagine if you helped one colleague every day for 10 minutes. After 90 days your acts of kindness would add up, and after 180 days you’d get reciprocal favors that would certainly help you. When I started in my sales job, I took a few minutes each morning to find a sales lead for someone. I knew what other people were working on/grappling with because I had taken them to lunch and asked. I’d find it and email them. My information or leads didn’t always help, but they were always grateful. As I got better at the job, I got better at figuring out how I could help.
You might argue that networking with colleagues is a waste of time, or that you shouldn’t be trying to help everyone as a newbie. I agree that you should stay focused on your role most of the time, but work isn’t only about working on a task; you will always have to deal with people. Good relationships are part of the job, and having them will make your life easier (check out Project Aristotle if you’re interested in learning more about why relationships, rather than results, are crucial to results!).
You don’t need to go out of your way for more than a few minutes – the small acts are fine. You can even send an interesting industry-related article, or research that you think might be useful. Establish yourself as someone who shares information openly. A colleague who takes time to help others and build relationships. Start the karmic cycle early and you’ll reap the rewards gradually over time when you least expect it, and when you need it most.
#6 Be a Self-Protective Giver
“Givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them. You’ll see that the difference lies in how giver success creates value, instead of just claiming it.” — Adam Grant
Wharton professor and author Adam Grant wrote a book (Give and Take) exploring four types of reciprocity that we encounter.
- Givers give unconditionally without expecting anything in return.
- Self-protective givers do not necessarily say yes to every request, but keep a very open mind and spend time assessing the best way to add value without wasting time.
- Takers are continually asking and expecting but not giving in return.
- Matchers only do something if it’s fair and if they think they’ll get something of equal or greater value in return (tit-for-tat).
Adam found that the people who were the most successful tended to be givers — like great CEOs, parents and leaders of all levels. But here’s the catch: givers were also at the bottom of the success bucket! Why? Because it’s easy to take advantage of givers. Takers steal both the time and success of givers (think of that person in your company who is always wasting your time but somehow seems to be doing well), by pushing them to the sidelines.
The most effective leaders are self-protective givers. They do not necessarily say yes to every request that comes across their desk, but they keep a very open mind and spend time assessing the best way to add value without wasting precious time. Self-protectors are efficient with their time and have a high impact.
Adam’s advice is to first prioritize the help requests that come your way — say yes when it matters most and no when you need to. During your first few weeks of work, learn to spot takers, and steer clear of them. They’re a drain on your energy, not to mention a performance hazard.
#7 Remember – No One Cares More Than You
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”― Mark Twain
New jobs are scary. You’re usually nervous, insecure, and anxious. Everything is a threat. We evolved in the wilderness to notice threats first, which worked out well for us. But when so much is on the line, we overestimate the severity of those threats beyond reality. We over-analyze.
Most of us don’t see facial expressions the same way. Depending on how you were raised, you might be prone to think people are angrier than they really are. As research by Matthew Walker has shown, lack of sleep can even make you more suspicious of people. And when you’re already anxious (as we all are on our first day), we’re automatically prone to misread people’s faces.
So, if your first day is coming up, keep in mind that it’s normal to feel a bit nervous. There are very few real red flags at work. But nobody is out to get you, and you’ll do a lot better than you think. Remind yourself that even if a person isn’t smiling, it doesn’t mean they’re mad at you or you’ve done something wrong. In reality, most people are probably too busy doing their jobs to even notice you. They might even be nervous and too caught up in their own heads to even notice you.