They say first impressions are important, and for most executives, the first day on a new job is more crucial to their success than they think. That first day is when they make first and lasting impressions; everything an executive does or does not do will set the tone and contribute to bosses and colleagues first impressions.
It is not easy to control first impressions, but executives can gain some control on how they are perceived on day one by planning in advance.
Yet, the one question that stumps my clients more than any other is: What are you planning to do on the first day of your new job? For some reason, leaders are lulled into complacency about what to do on one of the biggest days of their careers.
There is no one right way to act on a first day of a new job, but there are many wrong ways. Here are a few of the most common mistakes to avoid.
Do not come to the game cold: Avoid the temptation to just show up on day one and go with the flow. It is a major mistake for executives to passively accept a schedule that someone else has planned. Falling into this trap means following traditional day-one activities like meeting people around the office, filling out required forms and unpacking or setting up an office. Not exactly an inspiring first impression.
Just as world-class athletes warm up before every competition, executives should too. Get a jump start on relationships and learning about the company before walking through the doors by gleaning insight about key stakeholders. I encourage my clients to have the entire day planned out in 15-minute increments. I also tell them to plan ahead to inspire colleagues through meaningful and authentic words and actions.
Do not make it about you: New executives should avoid strong opinions, the need to be right, being confrontational, long-winded introductions and efforts to prove themselves immediately. They should also avoid becoming the center of attention by telling people what they know and speaking at great length--good or bad--about previous employers.
To get things off on the right foot, executives should focus on listening and asking questions of their new employees. By focusing on building rapport and gaining a genuine understanding of the office will establish a productive, efficient work environment. People will be looking to form opinions early and executives need to keep that in mind while deciding when to listen, when to share, what to ask, who to ask and how to answer.
Do not come without a well-crafted message: If executives dont have a precise message on their first day that is clear and brief, their message will be perceived as weak or muddled and will result in a lousy first impression.
I urge clients to craft a well-honed message that identifies how they want to be perceived. The message should be on point, meaningful and identify goals and expectations.
Do not stay cooped up in your office: Leaders often assume that their office is the best place to begin their new careers, but many times that is the last place they should be on day one.
From the start, location, order and timing counts. Executives should be circumspect about the order and timing of which they meet with people and should give some thought to where they can have the most impact or whom they need to reach out to first. Most of the time an office may not be the best place to have the highest impact or reach the most important stakeholders.
For example, if an executives message focuses on improving services and client retention, imagine the impact spending day one out in the field visiting important clients. A targeted move like will resoundingly reinforces a message.
First impressions are lasting ones. Success on day one (and over the first 100 days) requires careful planning in advance. Executive should decide in advance what message they want to send and how they want to communicate.
There is no right answer: No two executives first days will ever be the same because the combination of variables in every situation begs for different plans. But by asking the right questions and coming in prepared can have executives miles ahead of the game before stepping foot in their new office.
Jayme A. Check is a co-founder and managing partner at the executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis, which helps new leaders and their teams deliver better results faster. He also is co-author of The New Leaders 100-Day Action Plan(third edition to be released in fall, 2011). You can reach Jayme at JCheck@PrimeGenesis.com.