Make a Good First-Performance Impression

My October IAEM Bulletin Disaster Zone column.

by Eric Holdeman / November 4, 2019

This is about your ability to adapt to new positions, make a positive first impression and then "perform." This applies to someone just coming out of school, and also to those switching positions or organizations. 

Everyone is watching!

First Assignment, First Project — Do a Good Job

Another title for this column might be “Reputation Management.” This deals with everyone who is just starting a new career or those who are changing organizations and jobs. This is a danger zone for people new to professional work and for those who have been in the workforce for a period of time.

It wasn’t unusual for people to stay with one company for most of their professional career — 25-45 years ago. You would get a good job in business or government and then stay with that organization for 20, even 30 years. Usually, but not always, you might start near the bottom in the hierarchy of the organization and then, based on your experience and qualifications, move up through the ranks within a specialty or perhaps go into management.

Today the natural progression of the past has been replaced with people rotating careers, jobs, states, nations and doing so at a rapid pace. Even emergency managers move around regularly; sometimes starting in an entry-level state job, then moving to a city or county as higher-level or more enticing positions open up. Some individuals may work for multiple agencies in various capacities.  

With all this job and position rotation, it means that you will need to continually be proving yourself to a new group of people who include your boss, your peers and in some cases your subordinates — the people who report to you.

My point is that, you are under the microscope of your new boss, your peers and, if you have them, subordinates. “You are being watched!” Who is this new person we have to deal with? What are they like to work with? Can they write? How do they facilitate a meeting? How are they at project management? Do they delegate too little? Do they take credit for other people’s work?

Shall I go on — with all the questions that are in people’s minds?

It is critically important that those first days, weeks and months in a new position that you do “a good job” however that is defined. The culture of the new organization needs to be rapidly figured out so that you adapt to how they function, not how you have functioned in the past. I’m speaking on the positive side of the equation as far as adaptation is to be applied. Possibly you have stepped into a viper’s nest of work politics that are very negative. If that is the case, you can do your part to try and change the culture — especially if you serve in a leadership position. Lacking that, you might want to start looking for your next position in another organization.

You need a positive start in order to establish your reputation with the organization since it will set the tone for how you are being perceived. Pour your heart and soul into the first project you are given. It could be a training class you deliver or a plan that you are responsible for writing. Make that first endeavor as successful and positive as possible. The people around you will move from their “first impression of you” to their “second-performance impression of you.”

If for some reason you “stub your toe” on the first project you are given, it is possible to recover, but that second impression can be a telling one and getting choice assignments after making those first mistakes may be much harder.

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