Your 90 day plan: Focus on people

Your ability to develop trusting relationships early on in your new role will serve you well during your first 90 days and throughout your career at the company.

birds flying flickr davide cassanello
Credit: Davide Cassanello

You’ve started your new job as an IT leader. You may have read my previous article that talked about what you should be doing in the first 90 days to make you successful in your new role.

One of those things is building relationships with your manager, your team, business partners and other stakeholders.

If you’re like some IT leaders I work with, relationship building isn’t one of your core strengths. In fact, you may look at relationship building as a waste of time when you could instead be “fixing things.”

But beware – if you ignore this important step during your first 90 days, you might be setting yourself up for early failure.

Why all this touchy-feely stuff?

You may be asking, “Why do I need to build relationships? What does this have to do with starting my new job and getting things moving?”

If you don’t take the time now to build relationships:

  • Your team may not trust you and may feel disconnected from you. And let’s face it, as a leader, all you really have is people – this is how you get things done – through your team.
  • Your relationship with your manager won’t be as strong as it could be and you need this person in your corner supporting you.
  • Your business partners will most likely relegate you to “order taking” rather than building a collaborative partnership of equals, where you are viewed as their trusted partner and adviser.

The bottom line is this: at some point things are going to go wrong. Systems break down. Projects are late. Whatever. It’s during those times when you really need support from your team, your manager, and your business partners. If you haven’t invested in building these relationships you risk facing challenges alone, losing your credibility, and maybe even your job.

“I don’t hate people. I’m just stupid”

As I’m sitting in Starbucks writing this article, a guy came in wearing a t-shirt that says “I don’t hate people. I’m just stupid.”

I don’t know the intention of that saying, but I laughed because it reminded me that one of the chief complaints I hear about IT people is that we don’t have good people skills.

And it’s true. Relationship building does not come easy for some IT leaders. After all, our strengths typically lie in being analytical, logical, task and process oriented. We sometimes miss the nuances of human interaction.

It’s not about you

So how do you start developing these important relationships?

First recognize that it’s not about you! It’s about other people and your taking the time and steps to develop these new relationships.

Relationships are built one at a time

There’s no magic bullet.

Relationships are built over time and it requires some effort on your part. Let’s talk about each of the critical areas you need to focus on:

Your direct reports. Understand their apprehension about you. After all, you’ve most likely replaced their leader and they can’t help but wonder what this means for them. You can do a lot to build trust with a little effort on your part.

Hold a joint meeting with your direct reports early on. Make it an informal gathering. Tell them a little about yourself on a professional and personal level. Then allow them to do the same. I usually ask each person the following three questions:

  1. Tell me about what you do in our department.
  2. Tell me a little about your career.
  3. Tell me about your life outside of work (family, hobbies, volunteerism, or whatever).

I can’t tell you how much that last question has done for me when I step into a new leadership role. I always hear back how that question helped ease the tension and made each person feel valued.

Next setup regularly scheduled 1-on-1 sessions with your direct reports; and don’t cancel unless it is absolutely unavoidable. These sessions allow you to get to know your direct reports and may influence your strategy going forward.

Your extended team. Like your direct reports, your extended team is feeling apprehensive about this change as well. So you’ll want to hold a department meeting early on to let them get to know you a little, and to set their expectations that the first few months will be focused on learning.

Allow them to ask questions with the caveat that you may not know the answers until you’ve completed your learning and decided your forward strategy.

Your manager. It’s important to stay connected with your manager during your first 90 days. You’ll want to check in with your manager at least once a week, even if it is just for a few minutes. Not only does this help cement your new relationship, it gives you the opportunity to share your learnings, get your manager’s perspectives on things, and sometimes even keep you out of trouble!

Your business partners. If you read my post on the learning period then you know that conducting informational interviews during your first 90 days is very important to your learning. Many of these interviews will be with your business partners (within IT and/or within the business areas).

You will want to foster these relationships by continuing to meet with them on an on-going basis. The frequency is determined by the nature of relationship. You may need to meet with the marketing manager, for example, each week because your team is developing a new application for the marketing department.

To summarize, your ability to develop trusting relationships early on in your new role will serve you well during your first 90 days and throughout your career at the company. How well you do in this area influences how effective you will be as a leader, and your ability to make a positive impact on your team and the company.

Your turn

Have any advice for building relationships during the first 90 days? Please share by leaving a comment!

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