your next move

‘I Have No Direction in My New Job’

A black businesswoman scratches her head as she looks at a laptop screen.
Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photo: Getty

Hi Kimberly,

I started a senior role about six months ago (reporting to the CEO) at a nonprofit organization. Upon my arrival, I didn’t receive any sort of onboarding and had very little instruction about work, priorities, projects, etc. The CEO does not have time for regular meetings and operates as though I’ll get myself up to speed by osmosis. I am a fairly resourceful person, so looking at old files and checking in with my team helped me to piece together my own orientation to the organization and a cycle of the work that must be produced.

Given the way in which I’ve “landed in my role,” and that I’ve not really explicitly been told what the priorities or focus of my work should be, how would you suggest I outline them for myself, while making sure they are clearly in alignment with the vision of the CEO and organization?

I want to commend you for staying positive and taking control of the situation to get yourself up to speed. It’s extremely tough to be new to an organization and not receive the necessary onboarding training and introductions to help get you get started. I’m not sure if your role is remote, but I’ve seen this happen especially with companies that have pivoted to remote-first and haven’t taken the time to build an onboarding strategy to match.

Since you’ve been in the job for six months and still aren’t quite sure about all of the priorities, I recommend that you hit the reset button and develop a 90-day action plan. When senior-level executives join a company, they often have a 90-day plan of action to kick off their role and begin contributing to the organization in a meaningful way. You have a head start because you already have some familiarity with the company, key stakeholders, and resources available to you.

First, I want you to go back to your job description and pull out the key focus areas that were mentioned in the posting. This may have been the first and last time the organization took time to really think about what it needs the person hired in this role to do. Based upon your experience the last six months, ask yourself:

  • What are the most important tasks/projects in this role?
  • Who are the decision makers giving final approval on those key tasks/projects?
  • Who are your collaborators across the organization who are either impacted by the outcome of the tasks/projects, or will help you execute them?
  • Has anyone worked on any of these tasks/projects in the past?

Think about anything else you’ve been charged with working on in the past six months, too, and ask yourself the same questions above.

Next, it’s time to go on a listening tour! Schedule quick meetings with any of the key stakeholders you mentioned above. While it may be hard to get on everyone’s calendar, this is a non-negotiable. Before you can confidently take action toward any of the goals for your role, you must understand what’s been done in the past, what’s important to your stakeholders, and build relationships. I recommend dedicating a few weeks to meeting with as many stakeholders as possible to get yourself up to speed. You have four goals in these meetings:

  1. Introduce yourself so key stakeholders can understand who you are and what your role is.
  2. Build rapport with colleagues who impact your work. Get to know them on a professional and personal level.
  3. Uncover how your colleagues’ strategic plans will impact your own body of work.
  4. If there are any resources you need to do your job that you haven’t been able to track down yet, ask for them.

Once you’ve conducted the listening tour, take what you’ve learned and set specific and measurable short- and long-term goals. Think about what quick wins you can execute in the next 90 days. Quick wins help create momentum, reinforce your value in the workplace, and give you something tangible to share in your annual performance reviews. You want these wins to be impactful, but reasonable. You don’t have to force a year-long project into a 90-day sprint to impress the team! And don’t forget to prioritize your goals based on their importance and urgency. This will help you focus your energy and resources on the most critical tasks.

Then, schedule some time with the CEO to confirm that the plan you’ve created aligns with their goals for the organization. Create a pre-read that puts all of the information you’ve learned into a digestible format and send it 24 to 48 hours in advance for the CEO to review. This allows you to focus on any remaining questions that you have in the meeting, versus walking your boss through what you’ve learned.

Setting your CEO aside, I also want to empower you to develop your own vision for your role at the organization. You’re fortunate to be in a senior-level position, which comes with a certain level of autonomy and the ability to make some critical decisions without additional input. Trust your instincts and intuition! You were hired to make an impact in this role, and often, I see professionals who are given little direction wait for guidance that may never arrive before taking action. Sometimes you have to be comfortable asking for forgiveness, versus permission, in the workplace.

Career and leadership-development expert Kimberly Brown helps readers make sure their next move is the best move, here, every other Wednesday. Have a question for her? Email (and read our submission terms here.) Listen to the Your Next Move podcast here.

‘I Have No Direction in My New Job’