4 Evidence-Based Tips for New Hire Onboarding

Starting a new job can be an intimidating experience, full of uncertainties and self-doubt.

However, according to Dr. Michael Watkins, former professor at Harvard Business School, the path to achieving success at your new workplace can be mapped out effectively!


Watch it in action

Striving for Success: The First 90 Days

In Dr. Watkins's bestseller, "The First 90 Days", we are introduced to the concept of the "breakeven point" - when a new hire has produced as much value as they have received from their organization.

In his book, Dr. Watkins talks about several common traps new hires fall into, such as sticking to their old ways, rushing to do too much too soon, and setting unrealistic expectations.

Such tendencies can trigger a vicious cycle where poor initial decisions reduce trust from colleagues, making it harder to learn and adapt.

However, our goal is to initiate a virtuous cycle as early as possible - make sound initial decisions, gain trust, and accelerate learning. Let's explore how we can achieve this.

Understanding Your Blind Spots

Most new hires often commit the mistake of believing that their past skills and accomplishments will automatically guarantee success in their new role. However, every job is unique and requires a different set of skills.

Dr. Watkins suggests a simple exercise to identify our blind spots. The exercise involves rating your interest in solving problems in different business areas. Once you've done that, you'll start noticing where you might be less competent - these are your blind spots.

With the knowledge of your blind spots, you can then take actions to address them. Dr. Watkins provides an onboarding checklist and a framework for identifying "hidden" cultural norms, which can help you adapt your behavior according to your new organization's culture.

Accelerating Your Learning...Systematically

As a new hire, it's common to feel overwhelmed with new information. Dr. Watkins's "Learning Agenda" helps streamline the onboarding process by providing a list of questions about the past, present, and future of the organization.

Using these questions, you can start a cycle of gathering information, forming hypotheses, and testing your hypotheses. This method will help you prioritize and focus on the most important areas of your job.

Negotiating Success with Your Boss

Reaching the breakeven point is a crucial step in your job transition process, and your manager plays a significant role in this. Therefore, it's important to negotiate your success with your boss right from the start.

Firstly, create a 30-60-90 day plan with quantifiable success metrics. Get your manager to agree to these metrics and make sure you revisit them every week. Setting the right expectations with your manager helps avoid misunderstandings later.

Securing Early Wins

Building momentum right at the beginning is crucial for a smooth transition into a new job. Securing early wins with your colleagues helps build a positive impression.

However, don't confuse an early win with achieving your core success metric right away. An early win is about making a good first impression and setting yourself up for future success.

Impressions are usually formed around these questions:

  1. Do you share the same values as your team?
  2. Do you have the right kind of energy?
  3. Do you demand high levels of performance from yourself?

By asking thoughtful questions, observing visible and hidden cultural norms, and making realistic commitments, you can foster a favorable impression, kickstart a virtuous cycle, and reach the breakeven point swiftly.

It's quite a journey from being a new hire to becoming a trusted and valuable member of your organization. However, with the right strategies and a good understanding of your role and responsibilities, success is just around the corner.

As Dr. Watkins beautifully puts it in "The First 90 Days", you have the power to shape your success and it starts from day one. So here's to making your first 90 days count!

Did you enjoy this book review?

If yes, you'd probably like this video on "The Making of a Manager" by ex-Meta VP Julie Zhuo!