One of the most important mantras for success is determining how to get more from less.
That’s why when I think about the first 90 days on a job, I am thinking about how to steal days and gain time long before Day One begins. Think about how much common sense this makes. You’ve just gone through this big dating process and you’ve selected The One… and then you won’t see them again until your wedding day. That doesn’t make any sense! Spend time together, get to know one another better and determine how you collaborate together in this in-between period.
Of course I first learned the value of this method the hard way. In 1999, eBay was experiencing big problems, punctuated by a huge outage in June. That’s exactly when CEO Meg Whitman recruited me to join. I was in Asia on another project at the time, but the headhunter contacted my wife, Irene — she knew how decisions got made in my house — who immediately called me, “I think you should consider this eBay thing.” She wanted to move back to Silicon Valley and she liked the idea of me working for a woman CEO.
Meg and I had our first meeting in the airport on a Friday night in late July. “When can you be here?” she asked. I was up for the challenge and wanted to join eBay, but first I had to leave my current job and get my kids settled in their new school; I told Meg I could be there by September. She said that wouldn’t work. “We are in crisis, you have to be here sooner.”
Specifically, eBay needed me to be an employee by an Analyst Day being held on August 9 — now about a week away. I couldn’t just leave my current job so I wound up continuing as a contractor to ensure a smooth transition and starting at eBay at the same time. On August 4, a Wednesday, I met with Meg and the team, figured out the plan for the next month, and then went out and bought a house the next day. I was supposed to show it to my wife and kids on Friday, but the site crashed and I had to go into the office and try to stabilize things. The realtor picked my family up at the airport and took them to the house. (Luckily, they liked it; it even had a view I hadn’t known about or had time to see.) Irene came to the office to have me sign the final papers.
While Meg wanted me at eBay and sent me to the Network Operations Center (NOC) no one else had any clue why I was there, including the team of engineers that I was assigned to oversee. “Who are you?” they asked. They kicked me out. There was some behind-the-scenes discussion, I stayed, and we got the site running by 11 a.m. I was planning to fly out that day with my family and come back for Monday morning.
“No, you can’t go back home,” Meg said. She asked my wife to get my clothes dry-cleaned and bring me clean underwear. Amazingly, she did it and then flew home with the kids.
We finished our work by Sunday night only to have the site crash again — hard. We had to bring it back, which we did, but we were up all night. By the time I attended the Analyst Day that Monday — what was really to be my first day of work — I had already experienced what felt like 90 days’ worth of activity. I had been through hell and back having experienced two major and several minor issues. And, call me crazy, but I loved it because of how much I was learning.
I don’t recommend following this kind of onboarding experience, but I did learn the value of engaging people early with real work, and giving them the opportunity to make a real difference from the moment you begin. Here’s how I help the people who work for my organizations make the most of their first 90 days, without crushing them, but through collaborating with them and making the most of limited time:
Start before the official start. Before Day One, we meet and develop objectives that we agree upon so everyone knows how to hit the ground at full speed as soon as they officially walk in the door.
Don’t lose precious time with equipment setup and HR forms. Have all of that done before. This is always everyone’s least favorite day anyway! People want to do what they were meant to do, not sit around waiting for their email account to be set up.
Make sure there are resources and support systems in place. New hires need to know that there is somewhere to go with their questions and someone who will be able to provide the right direction and guidance. Communicate clearly that the intention is not for them to try to ponder it on their own.
ily check-ins. Take 20 minutes every day for the first week or two to investigate how it is going. You can instantly tell if someone is struggling or succeeding and iterate to make things work more smoothly. Always ask, “What do you need from me?” This will help both of you address issues and solve for concerns. Constant communication is key. I also learned this at eBay. Meg put me in the cubicle next to hers, which is where I stayed for the next seven years.
Give them work that matters. This is the real secret to onboarding effectively. Put them to work on real projects quickly. After all, this is what you’ve hired them for, but it will also make them engage more immediately.
Offer feedback. I ask them to grade themselves, and I too grade them after 90 days. I also give status updates to whole staff every week about where we are what we need to accomplish.