Our brains remember information “presented first and last, and have an inclination to forget the middle items.” People will remember vividly their first impressions of you and their last interaction with you. Although you can update their last interaction constantly, you are going to be stuck with those first impressions. Be careful about the messages you send with your words, with your actions, with the order of your actions, with the signs and symbols you deploy.
This is why Day One is such a meaningful pivot point for onboarding. Many people who are important to your new role will form their first, indelible impression of you on this day. As with the Fuzzy Front End, reconnect with your own brave preferences and orientation, and think carefully about whom you are encountering and already starting to influence.
There is no one right way to do this; but there are many wrong ways to do this. It is all about the first impression received. Different people will have different impressions of the same thing depending on their perspective and filters. The problem is that before your first interactions with them, you can’t understand their perspective and filters. So not only is there no one right answer, but it will also be difficult to figure out the best answer for your particular situation.
This is another reason it is so valuable to get a jump-start on relationships and learning during the Fuzzy Front End. One of the powerful things about embracing the Fuzzy Front End is that it enables you to manage the initial impressions you make on those key people outside the noise of Day One. Managed well, it will also help you make better choices about your early days.
John Lawler, one of the co-authors of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan puts it this way:
No two leaders’ first days will ever be the same because the combination of variables in every situation begs for different Day One plans. If there are market concerns, consider spending part of the day outside of the office with a major customer. If organizational complexity exists, consider a New Leader’s Assimilation workshop, allowing your team to voice concerns and learn about your preferences and early views.
At the start of a new role, everything is magnified. Thus it is critical to be particularly thoughtful about everything you do and say and don’t do and don’t say—and what order you do or say them in.
As you plan your own Day One, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- It is personal. As a leader, you impact peoples’ lives. Those people will try very hard to figure out you and your potential impact as soon as they can. They may even rush to judgment. Keep that in mind at all times.
- Order counts. Be circumspect about the order in which you meet with people and the timing of when you do what throughout Day One and your early days.
- Messages matter. Have a message. Know what you are going to say and not say. Have a bias toward listening. Know that strong opinions, long-winded introductions and efforts to prove yourself immediately are rarely, if ever good Day One tactics. People will be looking to form opinions early. Keep that in mind while deciding when to listen, when to share, what to ask, who to ask, and how you answer. When speaking keep it brief, on point and meaningful.
- Location counts. Think about where you will show up for work on Day One. Do not just show up at your designated office by default.
- Signs and symbols count. Be aware of all the ways in which you communicate, well beyond just words.
- Timing counts. Day One does not have to match the first day you get paid. Decide which day you want to communicate as Day One to facilitate other choices about order and location.
Read about the next step in a new leader’s 100-Day Action Plan: Activate Ongoing Communication Early In A New Job
 Elizabeth Hilton, “Differences in Visual and Auditory Short-Term Memory,” Indiana University South Bend Journal 4 (2001).