Getting Off To A Fast Start In Your New Position

Condensed from an article by William D. Ellis

As a college freshman, Jay Layden landed a job parking cars. Within months, he was in charge of two lots for Allbright Auto Parks, Inc. By age 36, he had become president of the world’s largest auto parking firm.

After graduating from Vanderbilt University, Jane Evans went into the training program Genesco Inc.’s I. Miller Shoe subsidiary. By age 25, she became president of I. Miller and by age 36 she was named executive VP of General Mills Fashion Group. That company grosses $650 million per year.

There are many stories like these and there’s an important lesson to be learned: whether you’re just starting out or making a mid-career change, a fast start can propel you to success. But there’s another side to this lesson: conversely, a plodding start establishes an imprint of low expectations among those around you.

In studying nine major organizations, management researchers Thomas P. Ference, James A. F. Stoner and E. Kirby Warren found that in most cases, sophisticated organizations make very early judgments about new people. “These judgments, whether accurate or not, become self-fulfilling prophecies,” they concluded.

Here are SIX STRATEGIES FOR A FAST START that are used by successful business people to establish themselves early on as winners:

  1. Make yourself visible early – Be assertive in this regard. Go out of your way to introduce yourself to everyone and focus on remembering everyone’s name. Network up…meet the leaders, the key players, the movers and the shakers in your group, right up to the top. Participate in meetings, be part of the team from the first day.
  2. Get the lay of the land – In a mid-career shift from journalism, Lillian Graeff joined the Cleveland Trust Company. “Going in,” says Graeff, “I decided to use the first three months to learn more about the bank than anyone else knew.” She explored her physical surroundings day after day, making note of what departments were where and what names were on the doors. She spoke with someone from a different department every day to learn the various functions of the operation. By the end of the three months, she had earned a reputation as a valuable and dependable information source about the bank. From that fast start, she quickly rose to the position of public relations officer. The simplicity of the technique still amazes her. “Anyone can do that in any company. It isn’t even hard work, but the results are fantastic!” she says.
  3. Volunteer for extra work – Theodore Roosevelt was once quoted, “When someone asks you to perform an unknown task, respond to the positive and then quickly go about finding out how to do it.” That’s particularly good advice for people new to a company. Management values an employee who grabs a challenge and runs with it. It also will provide you with an immediate opportunity to distinguish yourself as an asset.
  4. Overkill that first assignment – Understanding that you’re the “new kid on the block,” everyone will be watching. The way that you attack the assignment (or not), the time you devote to it (or not), whether you go the extra mile (or not) will be observed with special interest by not only your supervisor(s) but your peers. The quality of your work and the pace that you set on this first assignment will make a lasting impression. Go for it!

    After Victor Kiam graduated from Harvard Business School, he accepted a sales job with Lever Brothers Company. He didn’t know anything about salesmanship, but he was determined. While his peers put in 40 hours per week, Kiam called on potential customers for 12 hours per day, six days per week! He overwhelmed his quota and climbed the marketing ladder very quickly. Today we know him as the president of Remington Products, Inc.

  5. Rev up your enthusiasm – An enthusiastic newcomer can spark a whole department. Yet some days it seems impossible to muster the required energy. Here’s a tip: if you want to be enthusiastic, act enthusiastically! Inner enthusiasm will follow and it will have a contagious effect on colleagues and bosses. Even cynical old hands will respond to an enthusiastic newcomer.
  6. Dare to change an entrenched method – Breaking established paradigms (established and accepted ways of thinking) can be one of your greatest opportunities. Your fresh view of a company’s entrenched procedures can put you in the unique position of identifying opportunities for immediate improvements in efficiency and productivity. Your viewpoint can breathe new life into old ways and you can reap the rewards of recognition along the way. But you must dare to confront those who proclaim, “That’s not how we do it around here”; you must support your suggestions with sound reasoning. Assert yourself, but be prepared. In today’s world of “continuous improvement” and “change agents”, you can establish yourself early on as an advocate of doing things just a little bit better every day.