New Role? Focus on the Journey & the Milestones
Several of my clients are taking on new roles. These opportunities represent more responsibility, bigger challenges, and lots of overwhelm. The moves are game changing and their focus is on getting everything right and achieving significant outcomes. The determination to succeed can throw you into overdrive and create undue angst when there seems to be so much at stake. My advice is to focus on the journey not the destination.
There is always a learning curve when you take on a new role. It’s a time to absorb information, learn the players, and understand the cultural landscape of the new role. This time can be unnerving because you don’t have enough information to accomplish anything early on, but you do feel the pressure of the expectations.
Consider these 7 milestones that allow result-driven leaders in new roles to feel accomplished in the early days of a transition:
1. Document learning and insights and share. As you review existing information and sort through procedure manuals, keep notes on the dots you are connecting, the insights you’ve gained, and the questions you have. This information becomes a reference point for conversations. Sharing what you are learning demonstrates that you are actively processing the information and thinking about how it applies to your new role. Sharing your take-aways creates an opportunity for people to get a sense of your thinking and provides an opportunity for you to gain insight from others.
Milestone: Be prepared to share how what you’ve learned is informing your approach to the new role.
2. Create a list of key stakeholders and schedule time to meet. Confer with your boss and colleagues to help identify key stakeholders inside and outside of your functional area. Make it a priority to spend time with each stakeholder over lunch, coffee, in their office, or by phone. Learn more about your role through their eyes, their role in the organization, and how you can support one another. Be prepared to share information about yourself and ask questions that demonstrate an interest in each person beyond the work.
Milestone: Begin the process of developing relationships with key stakeholders. Use your time to learn about your role from their perspective, and make personal connections.
3. Minimize e-mail communication – call or visit instead. Be intentional about your visibility and avoid going into “head down” mode for prolonged periods of time. Take advantage of every opportunity there is to interact.
Milestone: Establish the groundwork for mutually satisfying relationships. Create the opportunity for people to experience you.
4. Find a thought partner. Take the time to reflect on what you are learning and find a thought partner (in addition to your boss) who can help make sense of the information that you are gathering. You may identify that person as you are meeting new people, or ask your boss to help you identify an internal mentor or coach. This person becomes another source of information for you and a touch point for others inquiring about your progress.
Milestone: Leverage a thought partner to help sort through the information you are collecting and who can serve as a source of information for anyone inquiring about “how you are doing.”
5. Chunk the big picture into smaller pieces. Breaking the big picture into smaller action items helps reduce the feeling of overwhelm. Research suggests that seven chunks of information is the maximum amount of information our brains can effectively manage at one time. Whether we are memorizing or deciding between many options; seven seems to be the limit. During high stress times, like when you are feeling the pressure to be on top of your game, your mental and emotional resources become even more limited, so reducing the number to three is advisable.
Milestone: Chunk the big picture and translate the chunks into action items with specific target dates to increase your sense of accomplishment, working on no more than 3-7 action items at a time.
6. Don’t assume what is “not possible.” These days resources are limited in most organizations, but that doesn’t mean that you have to take “no” for an answer. When faced with an obstacle that could interfere with your ability to accomplish a goal or a task, don’t be afraid to ask “What is possible?” Then brainstorm with your boss and/or thought partner to identify viable options. Collaborative thinking produces a synergy that stimulates creativity.
Milestone: Don’t be afraid to ask, “What is possible?” and participate in a discussion that identifies several viable options.
7. Manage Your Stress. This is the time to turn up the volume on self-care. Take breaks during the day to help maintain your energy and mental clarity. Consider journaling at the end of the day to help clear your mind and gain perspective on the day. Minimize the physical clutter in your personal space at work and at home to help reduce stress. Eat balanced meals, drink lots of water, and get plenty of rest. Take time for the things that relax and energize you. Make time for the people that love you and want to see you succeed.
Milestone: Nurture yourself for optimal performance.
More often than not, when the long term objectives are BIG, the short-term expectations reasonable. Observers are interested in your learning agility, problem solving abilities, and interpersonal skills. As long as you are visible and in conversation people will know what you are thinking and doing. That will create the support you need as well as the buzz that communicates your ability to get the job done.