5 Biggest Mistakes People Leaders Make in a New Job Role and How to Avoid Them

By People Leaders | People Leaders Podcast

When you start a new job role as a people leader, it can be difficult to know where to start. Many of us go in wanting to prove our worth as soon as possible but end up underperforming in the long run. That’s just one of the biggest mistakes people make in a new job role. 

There will always be challenges but it’s how you navigate them that’s important, so knowing what people tend to do wrong will help you succeed. In this post, we’re going to look at the five biggest mistakes people make in a new job role. 

These also apply to those who are already part of an organisation but are moving to a different role within the company. So whether you’re starting a new role soon, are a few weeks in, or have been at your company for a while, be mindful of these common mistakes and use our advice and tips to improve. 

Mistake #1 - Making short-term goals

The first biggest mistake that people make in a new job role is that they create change straight away. A lot of people tend to assume they should take action as soon as possible and so focus too much on short-term goals with quick wins. While they may get a “good” reputation for making things happen — and that may be the reason they were brought in — it’s not a long-term solution to achieving results. 

When you’re new to a role, it's challenging to understand the underlying context and culture of an organisation. They say it takes up to 90 days to become inculturated into an organisation. It’s actually a good opportunity to see what the current situation is and approach things with a fresh perspective, whether you’re completely new to the organisation or not. 

What many people don’t realise when they make changes straight off the bat is that it can be dangerous territory, so we always encourage people not to do it. 

So, what is the antidote? It’s simple: listen. Take the time to listen to your team, to listen to your key stakeholders, and even customers. Only then will you get a better sense of what is needed and you can start to make incremental changes within say, 60 days. Getting a proper plan together before creating change is key to long-term success in a new role. 

Mistake #2 - Making assumptions about your team

When it comes to being a good manager, or people leader, you need to have a good understanding of your team. But, if you’re new to a role, you should never make assumptions about your new team based on what you may have read or heard from other people. 

It could be that your new boss has told you about certain characteristics or weaknesses in some of your team members, and therefore, what needs to change. If you pay too much attention to what you’re being told, you’ll be looking out for it and will be biassed. 

The antidote to this is to really pay attention and get to know your people. Keeping a journal is a useful way of gaining a better understanding of your team because it gives you something to reflect on as the weeks go by. If you do this, your plan will almost reveal itself. 

We’ve been part of a coaching situation where a manager made the mistake of making assumptions about a certain team member when they came on board. The new person was quite  extroverted and introduced themselves and made themselves known to the rest of the team. This created the impression this person was supportive and a stronger member of the team, however, the manager was actually being undermined because they didn’t know that the new person also interviewed for the manager role, which then caused a lot of friction between them. 

So again, making assumptions can be dangerous territory. Instead, take the time to observe and be mindful, collect as much information as possible, be mindful of what you’re hearing from others, and base your opinions on observed behaviours. 

Mistake #3 - Relying too much on your manager

Another big mistake people make in a new job role is assuming it’s your manager's job to get you up to speed and to direct you. If you rely too much on them giving you direction and introducing you to stakeholders, and they don’t have the time to, you’ll be left in limbo. 

We’ve seen this happen before and all it did was make them underperform. According to research, if someone hasn’t performed well within the first 90 days, there is a 90% chance they’ll be an under-performer anyway because it’s so hard to shift perceptions and reputations. 

Use those first 90 days to ask questions, collect data and create relationships. We recommend identifying three people in the business that you need to get to know, like a key stakeholder, someone in your team or someone who your team works closely with, and get to know the business. Then you can start to make a plan and share that with your manager.

Mistake #4 - Not understanding your remit

The fourth biggest mistake people make in a new job role is not being clear about their remit. Again, this circles back to making assumptions. You can’t do your job well if you don’t make sure early on that you understand why you were hired for the role and what the expectation is.

Perhaps your manager doesn’t know and they just needed to fill the position with a good resource. In this case you just need to go for it. Again, pick three people in the business who you identify as being important to your role and ask them and your team what is needed to be a highly effective team. What are some of the processes your team may need to refine or improve in order to do their job better for the organisation? What's your reputation in terms of customers and stakeholders? 

There are some key areas that you can start with so you’re clear about what you want to achieve. Delve deep and ask yourself what success looks like to you. What does it look like for your team? What is your role over the next three to six months? Once you’re clear on those things, you can start to use your skills for the good of the business. 

Mistake # 5 - Creating a plan without your team’s involvement

As a people leader it can be easy to assume you are the sole person who needs to make a plan, do the thinking behind it, and put it into action. Really, you just need to set the vision. You should have an idea to use as a starting point, but having a framework and structure in place to involve your team and make a plan together is key. 

By involving your team it shows them you actually want to work as a unit and that you value their input. However, not all team members have the experience, capacity or confidence to add value early on. Our tip to a manager who finds this is to do the thinking first and keep it in your back pocket so you can bring it out when it’s needed. 

The most important thing is to have a structure and a process in place. Be clear about the questions you're going to ask and have an overall picture of what you think success looks like in all those key areas that you're trying to create a plan around.

Most organisations have tools you can use to create a plan, so use them if you can. If you don’t have anything to start with, do some research around what makes a good plan and do a SWOT Analysis so you know where the strengths and weaknesses lie. That way you can identify opportunities and know what big ticket items that your team needs to be mindful of and that you can create objectives around. 

Approaching it this way also enables you to assign action steps and accountability. Plus, when the team is engaged in this process, you usually see a lot more participation. 

Bonus tip - Don’t forget about your own health and wellbeing

One more mistake we see managers make in a new role is being so eager to get started that they let their own health and wellbeing take a back seat. They try to make a big impact early and forget that it’s their body and mind that has to make the impact. So be sure to take time out to rest and recuperate and hydrate and all the things you need to do to sustain yourself during those crucial first 90 days.