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Maximize Your First Few Months on the Job

Updated: Jan 12

Whether brought in externally or promoted internally, new hires are everywhere. You might be one yourself or considering a transition soon. Given the amount of change in the workplace, it’s just a matter of time before we’re all new at something.

Regardless of the circumstance, most new employees have the same goal: To make a valuable contribution as soon as possible. This is to establish credibility, competence, and make an impact.

Which begs the question, how long does that take?

When you start a new job, you consume value. You participate in training, people stop their own work to meet with or explain things to you, and you work slower. This is value consumption, according to Michael D. Watkins, author of The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter.

Over time, a new employee will eventually begin to add value. Watkins calls this, the break-even point. “This is the point at which you have contributed as much value to your new organization as you have consumed from it.”

So, how long does it take to reach the break-even point?

According to Watkins’ research, an average of 6.2 months for mid-level leaders.

It is reasonable to think it might be sooner, like 3 months. But the new employee must make up for the value they consumed before reaching this break-even point. See Watkins graph below.

Depending on circumstances, this timeframe might be shorter or longer. Such as, you assume responsibility for a poor performing, disaster of a team. You might start adding value much faster. Or you were intentionally hired with little experience in the content area of the job to provide fresh perspective, but it results in a steep learning curve. You might add value much slower.

Again, the goal of any new employee is to start adding value as soon as possible. Here are a few tips to do just that. If you are already well into a new job and feeling disappointed, you may also want to read: When Your New Job Isn't as Great as You Hoped.

Foster a growth mindset – Often, new leaders observe something different from their experience and tag it as wrong. As though people and processes are binary, right (what aligns to our expectations) or wrong (what doesn’t). This is a fixed mindset. Instead, prepare yourself to have a growth mindset seeing differences, setbacks, obstacles, and uncertainty as opportunities to learn. Having a growth mindset is essential to success.

Get to know your boss – The initial relationship established with your boss can influence the entire work experience. Seek to understand your boss’s style and ask questions about how they work, like to receive information, and be kept updated on progress. Some bosses like a lot of information, some like little, some say they want a little and really want a lot. Your success depends on whether your boss sees you as a valuable contributor. The earlier you know what that is, the better.

Conduct strategic meet and greets – Understanding how to be successful in your new role is priority one. The goal is to learn this from the people who are most respected, well-informed, and deliver consistent results. Meet with your team and then ask each of them to provide two names of people they respect most in the organization. Meet with these people. Then ask those folks the same question, who they respect. Meet with them and so on. Patterns will emerge and you’ll learn quickly what makes people successful from the people who are actually successful.

Leave the past behind –Before starting the new job, in your prior role, you had a firm grasp of the “lay of the land”, the processes and the people. In this new job, that knowledge (and the comfort that comes with it) is gone. Naturally, your want to channel that comfort and past expertise by saying things like “You know what we did at my previous job?” Rarely is that helpful because it is a different organization, a different time, and different circumstance. Leave your past behind and acknowledge the discomfort you feel being new. Establish healthy outlets to deal with it: exercise, hobbies, sleep, friends, family, etc.

Reserve time to reflect weekly – Learning is only learning if you retain information and apply it. The first months on the job are an onslaught of new information and expectations. Reserve time weekly to capture your successes, new information, and insights and then process that learning into future action. Write down what you will do differently as a result of this new information about the job, both people and processes. Reserve time and identify a place to document the learnings (hardcopy or electronic).

These strategies will not only help accelerate that period of transition from “new kid” to valuable contributor but also provide a path to managing the challenge of it.

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Until next time!


Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.

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