The 3-Year Job Cycle

I recently caught up with the 2015 Class of my human resources leadership development program.  After sharing updates on engagements, marriages, children, and current living situations, we spent time discussing current jobs and planning for the future.  Their rapid progression and career success was no surprise as graduates of an accelerated development program.    But they were in different phases of their current job.  I shared my 3-year job cycle as a tool to assess their current job situation and guide them to action.

I believe it takes three years to understand the complexities and nuances of a role.  You don’t have to learn everything all at once.  Each year builds competence and confidence.

  1. Year One – Survive the Scramble

When you first take on a new role, you are scrambling to learn what to do and how to do it well.  Your goal in year one is to understand your role, what is expected, and who you have to work with to deliver the expected results.  Work with your manager and teammates to get answers to the following questions:

  • Control – what resources do you and/or your department control? Which decisions do you get to make on your own, and which require input from others?  Resources typically mean budget and direct reports.  If you don’t have direct reports, discover who you must collaborate with to complete initiatives.
  • Success – how is success defined? What metrics and measures are used to evaluate you, your team, and department?  What monetary incentives are in place if any (bonus / stock options)?
  • Partners – who must you work with and influence to achieve your goals? Get advice about how to best interact with key stakeholders.
  • Natural Ally’s – who wins when your team wins? What other business units, operational functions or people benefit when you reach your goals?  Knowing this broadens your spheres of influence.

Year one is all about understanding the fundamentals of your job.  Discovering what is truly expected of you and who to work with to achieve results.

  1. Year Two – Experience the Process

Unless you were lucky and you started the job on January 1st, you learned and experienced your role in the middle of the process or cycle.  Year one focused on the fundamentals.  In year two the goal is to experience the full process in real time.  Consider the following aspects of your role:

  • Timing – when do things happen and why? Because you are confident that you can do the major responsibilities of your role, step back and chart what happens each month and why.  In broad terms, there is a planning phase, budget or decision phase, and implementation phase for each major process.  Work with colleagues and managers to understand when each phase begins and ends.  This will give you the opportunity to anticipate work requests and act proactively.
  • Networking – take the time to network. Get to know the people within your department on a deeper level and expand your network outside of your immediate area.  Identify people both “upstream” and “downstream.”  That means getting to know people whose work serves as an input for your work and talking with people that receive the output of your work.
  • Decision Making – observe how decisions get made related to the work of your department. Does the style change?  Typical styles include a) authoritative – leader decides; b) consensus – a group decides; c) delegate – authority given to an individual or group; or d) democratic – people votes and majority rules.

Year two is about doing your job more efficiently and effectively.  Experiencing your job, the second time around in chronological order, building your network, and mastering the decision process of your area are keys to effective job performance.  

  1. Year Three – Gaining Perspective

By year three we often feel confident in our role.  We know what is coming, we’ve planned for the unexpected, and built relationships to be effective.  At this point it is time to view your job in a broader context.  Focus on two areas.

Career Progression.  What is next?  Work with mentors and sponsors to identify the next opportunity.  Make sure your resume is up to date.  Begin to share your medium-term career goals with your manager and others who can help you on the way.

Mastery of Role.  Continue to get better at your current job.  What was the environment in which you have worked in the past two years?  Was the organization in rapid growth, a turnaround, or a start up?  Context matters.  Time to coach and mentor others.  Also begin to expand your industry contacts.  Attend conferences and develop a reputation outside your organization.

What if I am promoted faster than three years?  If you are, congratulations you are on the fast track.  Use this framework to identify knowledge gaps and continue to network with people to fill in the blanks.  I’ve seen careers stall when the year two (process) and three (perspective) knowledge is lacking.

Bottom Line

I believe it takes three years to understand the complexities and nuances of a role.  You don’t have to learn everything all at once.  Each year builds competence and confidence.  Long-term success is based on understanding the fundamental aspects of your role, experiencing the full process, and viewing your role in the context of the larger organization.

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