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You’re starting a new job. You’re good at what you do... or at least you were good at what you did at your old job. But now you’re unproven.

Now you need to get off to a great start... and you don’t have a lot of time to make that happen. If you’re a senior executive you probably have three months to stake out your position and take a few major – and visible – steps.

If you’re lower on the corporate ladder you might have even less time.

I haven’t started a new job in forever, so I found someone better to give advice: Jim Whitehurst. He’s gone from a management consultant at Boston Consulting Group to Treasurer and then Chief Operating Officer of Delta Airlines and is now the CEO of Red Hat, the $1.1 billion open source software company.

So yeah, he’s successfully started a few new jobs.

Here’s Jim on how to get off to the perfect start in your new job:

Deeply understand how the business creates value.

Obviously you need to learn how to do your job well, but more than that you need to understand the company’s competitive advantage and underlying value proposition to make sure those things happen.

Don’t assume your predecessor did.

When I reflect on what I do at Red Hat and what I did at Delta it’s absolutely night and day. I didn’t think about it at the time, but when I think back to Delta I realize I was pretty hard on people. An airline is a pennies and nickels kind of business with single-digit margins -- if you’re lucky. So I would challenge and direct and correct… I was extremely focused on execution and spent the majority of my time going through the details.

At Red Hat my focus is on talking to customers, to M & A prospects, to partners, to CIOs to find out where they think the future of tech is going…. We’re outward facing, customer facing, and all about the future, while the airline business is pretty well defined and the goal is to optimize within that box. Strategic long-term planning is a much bigger part of what I do now than it was at Delta.

Don’t assume the way you did your old job, or the way your new job was done before, is the way it should be done now.

If you want to succeed – and move up to higher levels – take the time to figure out how the company truly creates value.

Learn how to serve all of your constituents.

You may have direct reports. You may have external customers. You definitely have internal customers. Often many of your constituents have little to do with what you might think is your job.

In my role, over half of my time is not spent “running the business.” Talking to the press, to board members, investors, analysts, engaging in civic responsibilities (because you can’t be a leader without being a leader in the community where that company lives and works)….

At first I got frustrated by those demands. Then I realized I couldn’t run a full schedule the way I once did. I needed to be on the phone talking to legislators about issues. I needed to be on the phone with the governor-elect when he asked if I would host a session to get input from business leaders. All that "stuff" is really important to our company and our community.

You’ll start a job with certain expectations, but once you understand the needs of all your constituents you must redefine how you see your job and the way you perform it.

Learn about all of your constituents and determine how to serve them while creating value for your company. That might sound contradictory, but when you deeply understand how the company creates value and you deeply understand your constituents, it's not.

Stay focused on what you do best.

You were hired for a reason. Don’t lose sight of that reason as you take on your new duties.

Sometimes a company hires a new employee because they need specific things done and that person has done those things before. Sometimes a company hires a new employee who has the attributes they need instead of the person with the “right” set of skills experiences.

Often it’s a blend of both: You’re hired because of your skills and qualifications… but also because you bring qualities and attributes the company needs.

Never lose sight of what makes you different. You possess qualities and attributes other people don’t. That’s why you were hired.

Use them. But make sure you also...

Show what you will do differently.

Never assume what made you successful at one job will make you successful at your new job. Many executives fail because they try to apply what was successful in the past to a new business.

Understand the company’s competitive advantage, understand the needs of all your constituents, and decide how you can leverage your skills, experiences, and intangibles to stake out a position and take the job to another level.

Work extremely hard to deliver value... and soon the company may decide to take you to another level.
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