New job launch control—a dissenting view

Make an impression that will last and don’t hold back.

By Wade W. Smith, PE, Wade W. Smith Consulting LLC, Chetek, Wis. July 14, 2016

In February, Jane Sidebottom, owner of AMK LLC, published an article suggesting that holding back during your early days at a new job is wise and relationships are the cornerstone of a successful career. Sidebottom is not wrong, but she is not right either. Behaving in ways that alienate your co-workers and snub your network of associates is never a good idea, but neither is holding back.

After recently retiring from a successful professional journey of 50 years where my longest tenure between promotions was 5 years, I can tell you that your first day on the job is the most important. First impressions are lasting and hard to alter. That being said, what impression do you want to make on those you work with, and those you work for, during the first few weeks? That impression will last for decades.

My advice is—don’t hold back. You have a huge advantage over the folks you are working with during your first days that you should exploit fully.

  1. You can claim to know nothing, so no question is beneath you. It’s always good to open with a softener, like, "I’m sorry, but I am just trying to understand … why does the company … have you ever considered … is this something that fits well with …?’" Listen and learn.
  2. Your perspective is looking at the forest, in the midst of peers who are in the trees and cannot see what you see. Of course, you have to be diplomatic, but in my experience, the greatest positive impact I’ve had on the companies I worked for generally occurred in the first 3 months. After that, you get busy working in the forest and lose your view from 30,000 ft.
  3. Lateral thought (creativity) is facilitated when paradigms are altered or ignored. You have no paradigms to guide your thinking. Give your creative ideas credit—do not suppress them. Write them down for future reference, or raise them for discussion with your team.
  4. Don’t be afraid to surprise people in a positive way. Others who view this as "showing off" are focused on themselves and not looking out for the company’s well-being. Your focus needs to be on advancing the company’s business interests, not yourself.

The idea that your network is the critical ingredient to career advancement is hogwash. The critical element is measured by executives who will pay close attention to your performance, especially in the beginning. You will be evaluated by the value that you are adding to the enterprise—you will get ahead by staying focused on this single objective.

Most of your peers will not do this. They will enjoy long tenures of employment at their current level until the company must cut back, which happens at all companies. Ask yourself—when the boss has to decide who to lay off, will the choice be someone with high energy and dedication to making the company better or someone who holds back and nurtures team-member relationships as their priority? So, you have a decision to make: Do you want to be part of the network of winners, or of those who hold themselves back?

Wade W. Smith is a business coach and consultant, helping manufacturing companies implement enlightened business strategy to secure a competitive advantage. His career began in technical marketing at Trane Co. in 1973 and transitioned to general management from 1987 until his retirement in 2015. Smith’s clients include the Twin City Fan Co. and the Air Movement and Control Association International Inc., where he was previously the executive director.