The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.
Meet the Parents: Making Lasting First Impressions
This past couple of weeks, I’ve had the honor of getting to know the newest member of my team. More than once, I’ve been the newbie on the block, and I know exactly how awkward this can feel. It reminded me of another newbie situation that happened over two decades ago.
My freshman year ended and I was smitten. Forced to part from my college crush made my summer unbearable. I didn’t see Julie for 12 long weeks while participating in Army combat medic school. Testosterone raging, I wanted to marry her. Right then!
When I returned in the fall, our courtship blossomed. We started making life-long plans and set a date 18 months out.
Then it was time to meet the parents.
A friend lent me her Jeep over winter break. I drove my future bride through the ice and snow to introduce her to my parents. Making our way from Ft. Collins south to Colorado Springs, we chatted about family as Julie played with the handcuffs hanging from the rearview mirror. She inadvertently cuffed herself.
Laughing, we searched the Jeep for the key. No key. I had no contact information for my friend, who had headed to Florida for Christmas. Bouncing down I-25, Julie’s arm dangled from the mirror.
Refusing to let her meet my parents in this condition, I pulled into a truck stop and explained our dilemma to a repairman. Smirking up a storm, he cut the chain, freeing Julie’s arm from the mirror. We continued our journey south.
Stopping at the Springs’ police headquarters, we requested assistance to remove the cuff. The suspicious officer pummeled her with questions — “Who did this to you?” — and asked for the Jeep’s registration. The Florida vehicle had no registration. I started to consider my one phone call. “Dad, can you and Mom meet us at the police station and post bail?” Not the ideal first impression.
We have one chance to make a first impression, so make it good. One nice thing about starting in a new organization is the opportunity to begin from scratch—with your management, your team and your customers. It’s critical to think about the mechanics of that first impression long before you arrive. Great books such as Your First 90 Days provide superb guidance.
The best takeaway for me was not to “hit the ground running,” but to “hit the ground listening.” In my current position, I’d spent the first 90 days meeting with 100 key leaders, team, and customers, taking copious notes. Summarizing by theme, I reported these back and used them to guide my priorities that first year. The greatest gift we can give is to listen.
First impressions work both ways and are too easily forgotten when new employees, leaders, or customers jump on board. Go out of your way to make a noble impression on the new team member who clearly feels lost and out of sorts. Newcomers to the organization afford us with golden opportunities to show we care about their success.
When possible, secure their contact information prior to their arrival and reach out in advance with an invite to dinner or coffee. In my role overseeing technology, I aim to guarantee that organizational newbies have all the tools and access needed to be productive on arrival day.
A first impression is more than personal. It’s professional.
The cops finally released us. Unable to de-cuff Julie, they sent us to a locksmith. After hearing our story, the locksmith called the cops and we repeated the cycle. Finally getting police clearance, the locksmith freed Julie.
Although late, we reached my parents’ home sans the suggestive jewelry. She made an incredible first impression, and Mom and Dad immediately embraced Julie as part of the family. I sometimes wonder if their reception would have changed if my fiancée had shown up as a jailbird. A tough gig to recover from, for sure. Perhaps my parents would have bribed me as Julie’s parents had tried to do.
Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.