People say the darnedest things.
When taking a new job, they often tell their friends and family not to expect much of them because they are going to be “heads down for the next 90 days.”
Let me get this out of the way: what a terrible idea that is.
When you take a new job, being heads down is likely to result in not seeing the valuable information that can help you course correct. Without those course corrections, missteps are also likely and the consequences to your organization and your career can be costly.
I hear you out there, “Dennis, lighten up. It’s just an expression.” But is it? There is a lot to learn in a new job, often a lot of new people to meet, and sometimes other locations and customers to visit. Getting up to speed as quickly as possible requires a big time investment.
Moreover, people are really anxious to impress in a new job. They are anxious to prove they are dedicated and hard working so they often come in early and stay late. They also are anxious for some early wins, so again they put in long hours trying to figure out where the leverage is.
There is objectively a lot to learn and do and when combined with people’s desire to make a good impression the result is a first 90 days calendar that looks blocked tighter than a Moroccan rug.
Whenever there is the slightest break in the action, say, at an airport waiting for a flight, out comes the phone or iPad to catch up on world news or sports scores or scroll through Facebook so you can live vicariously through people who appear to “have a life.”
Where is the time for reflection? Where is the time to augur the signs and forecast your trajectory?
Would you ever go on a journey to an unfamiliar place and not use your GPS (which is constantly updating your location) or a map or read the signs to determine if you were still on track? You would not. Further, isn’t driving heads down, whether texting or doing something else, causing more accidents now than drunk driving.
How could anyone think it would be good to be heads down as we navigate new jobs?
Here is a stone simple suggestion with big dividends. Block at least 30 mins on your calendar every week for your first three months to actually be heads up, looking around to reflect on where you are. This is 30 mins a week spent, not taking in new information, but reflecting on the information you have already taken in.
Here are some questions to guide your reflections:
There are more questions, but this is enough to get you started. This reflection time on “where you are” is absolutely critical when you take a new job. The probability of and consequences for the organization…and your career…ending up in the ditch are too great.
Since the urgent often seems to have a insidious way of driving out the critical, you many need to get some help here. Just as Odysseus tied himself to the mast, you may need to get support in the form of a significant other, a trusted colleague or friend, an HR business partner, or an external coach who can help you block out the time and ask some reflective questions. But find the time you must if you don’t want to end up in that dog-pile of other heads down folks.