Continuing in a series of posts that touch on 10 challenges for you to consider as you embrace a 2012 that is more productive for yourself, as well as for those around you. As I do so, I am borrowing from a book I read last year, The First 90 Days: Critical Success Stories for New Leaders by Michael Watkins.

Read previous challenge articles:
First Challenge – Promote yourself

Second Challenge – Accelerate Your Learning

Third Challenge – Match Strategy to Situation

Fourth Challenge – Secure Early Wins

Fifth Challenge – Negotiate Success

All too often when we move into new positions, we just show up and start working. We assume that success in the role has already been defined, and we do what we perceive as best in trying to achieve that pre-defined success. A better approach is to sit down with your new boss (if applicable), current boss (if you are working to re-define your current role), or in quiet reflection (if you are the boss who is trying to redefine her role), to negotiate from a blank slate of what success will look like over the next 90 days.

After all, circumstances change. We should never accept “we’ve always done it that way” as a legitimate excuse and defining success in a role is no exception.

Some things you DON’T want to do:

Don’t blame others – Be sure to negotiate success based on those things within your control. Blaming those who came before or even those who are still there is wasted time. That isn’t to say that poor performance should be tolerated, but leave that to other conversations. When discussing your own success/failure, you have to own it.

Don’t not communicate – A little bit of freedom is liberating, but too much can be devastating. Just because whomever you are accountable to isn’t pushing for regular communication, that doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely necessary. You are responsible for your success and you need to be the one pushing conversations to ensure everyone is still on the same page about expectations and progress.

Don’t surprise – Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news, but bad news delivered too late is even worse. As I heard one leader say recently, “You can tell me the good news whenever you get the chance; you have to make time to tell me the bad news right away.”

Don’t show up with only a problem – Your boss is there to help solve problems, but “help” is the operative word. Spend some time thinking about possible solutions to take along with your problem. The eventual conversation will be much more effective as a result.

Some things you DO want to do:

Do take 100% responsibility – Assume it will always be up to you to communicate to your boss, to request time on her calendar, to request the support you need. If you have a boss who meets you halfway, then consider it a bonus.

Do clarify completely and often – Check in regularly to make sure both sides understand if circumstances have changed expectations (e.g., the definition of success). At any point in time, both sides should have the same definition, although it may very well be different than the original definition.

Do please the boss – Be sure you know what are the highest priorities for the boss and aim for early and tangible results in those areas. Identify three things that are critical to the boss and be sure to give an update on them every time you interact.

And remember, many of you reading this are not only in a new role or in the process of redefining your role, you are the boss. While it presents an interesting twist, you may have to put yourself on both sides of the discussion here.

Acceleration Checklist as suggested in The First 90 Days (paraphrased in places)

  1. How effectively have you built relationships with new bosses in the past? What have you done well? In what areas do you need improvement?
  2. Based on what you know now, what are the early conversations you need to have with your boss about how to define early success?
  3. How will you figure out what your new boss expects of you?
  4. Create a plan for communication. What mode of communication (e-mail, voice mail, face-to-face) does he/she prefer? How often will you interact? How much detail should be expected?
  5. Create a plan to discuss necessary resources. With agreed upon success in place, what resources are absolutely necessary? With less than ideal resources, what may you have to forgo? If additional resource investment is possible, what are the possible upsides?
  6. Create a plan for personal development. What are your strengths and where do you need improvement?

Nothing leads to success like success itself. Just be sure to take the time to define success as early and often as possible.

Photo by elleinad.