Most people think that the most important relationship to develop when they start a new job is with their new boss. There is no question that winning over your boss and finding senior level mentors are key to being successful, but the most important thing you can do to build strong “upward” relationships is to deliver great work from the start that makes those senior folks look good. The people who can most help you deliver great work early on are actually your peers or even more junior staff who are proven high-performers in the organization. Building an effective circle of peer advisors will help you avoid early mistakes and ensure that positive perceptions about you spread virally through your firm. Here are a few steps you can take when you start your new job to build peer relationships so they can make a huge difference for you.
1. Ask who the right people are and don’t assume you can identify them on your own
. One of first things you should do when you start a new job is to ask a few people (including your boss) who the top performing people at your level are (and the level below you if there is one) and why they are considered top performers. Pay close attention to the “why” as those answers will give you a sense what it takes to be successful at your firm.
2. Engage your peers in a genuine, humble way.
Introduce yourself, ask to speak for a few minutes at their convenience, and get their perspective on the organization and what it takes to be successful. Your goals are to get a roadmap of “do’s and don’ts” for getting off to a good start, to get them to agree to let you “bounce things off them” in the future, and to find out their priorities so you can understand how you can help them.
3. See the standard of excellence for yourself
. Ask them if they will share a really strong piece of work that they or someone else has done. This will give you a sense of the bar for excellence that you need to hit with your work. You should also observe how they spend their day, who they spend the most time with, who they go to for help, and how they handle themselves in meetings.
4. Ask for their feedback on your work before you show it to your boss
. There are two stages where their input is most critical. When you are in the early stages of one of your first projects, share your approach with them and ask if you are “on the right track”. Once you both are comfortable that you are approaching the project the right way, then you should have a quick update discussion with your boss so that he/she sees you are on the right track. (You should only meet with your boss once you are confident you are on track). The second stage is toward the end of the project just before you will share your deliverable with your boss. Your peers can help strengthen the content, find mistakes (wrong numbers, bad assumptions, typos) that will become big problems if your boss sees them, and also ensure your formatting is consistent with the norms at your firm. (Also See Avoiding Career Limiting Moves Early in Your Career
5. Do something that helps your peers and be sure to thank them appropriately. When one of your peers helps you look good, find a way to communicate something positive about them to his/her boss and other colleagues. That message does not have to relate specifically to your project and it can be as informal as a passing conversation, but it should communicate that he/she “has gone out of their way to help me get up to speed and understand what it takes to contribute meaningfully”. When you thank your peers, ask how you can be helpful to them and take the time to treat them to lunch or coffee so they know you are a team player.