If you are an executive onboarding into a new job you must manage your own message. Doing this right requires getting a head start so you can manage the communication leading up to and through your first day. If you wait until your first day to start, you are already behind the curve. You are going to get positioned in others’ minds whether you choose to manage that positioning or not. Given its importance, managing your message is job one leading up to and through Day One.

Our brains remember information “Presented first and last, and have an inclination to forget the middle items.”[1] People will remember vividly their first impressions of you and their last interaction with you. Although you can update your last interaction constantly, you are going to be stuck with those first impressions. So, be intentional when choosing them. Be intentional about the message 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 will form their first, indelible impression of you on this day. 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. This is one of the reasons why it is so valuable to get a head start on relationships and learning before you start.


What Are You Going to Do on Day One?

That question, more than any other, stumps our clients. Most leaders fail to think about and plan Day One as thoroughly as it deserves. For some reason, leaders are often lulled into complacency when deciding what to do on Day One. Often, they passively accept a schedule that someone else has planned out for them. Or they plan to do what seems to be the traditional Day One activities of meeting those people “around” their office or filling out the required forms, unpacking and setting up their office.

Not you. What you say and do on Day One is going to inspire others. Not with cheesy motivational tactics, but through meaningful words and actions that create excitement about the things to come. Do not underestimate Day One’s importance. Plan it with great care and make sure what you do and say communicates your message, exactly as you want it, to the people you most need to reach. Remember, this is personal, order counts, signs and symbols count, and timing counts.

As Carl Buehner put it:

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”[2]

Everyone you meet on Day One has the same question. Whether it’s masked as a question about your background, your family, your priorities or your favorite sports team, the real underlying question is “What does this mean for me?”

If they work for you, assume they are scared. If they are your peers, assume they feel threatened. If you work for them, assume they are hopeful. But in any case, you have to choose your words and actions carefully to make them feel better about how you’re going to impact their lives.

This is why it’s so valuable to focus on an external platform for change (so they don’t think you think poorly of them,) a vision in which they can see themselves (so it’s not about you,) and a call to action they can adopt (so they can be part of the solution.) All those should lead to a message headline that makes people feel like you’re going to make their lives better.

Bottom line. Onboarding right is about converging and evolving and Day One is about starting relationships. This is why it’s so important to manage your own message.


[1] Elizabeth Hilton, “Differences in Visual and Auditory Short-Term Memory,” Indiana University South Bend Journal 4 (2001).

[2] Richard Evans’ Quote Book, 1971, Publisher’s Press (Note the poet Maya Angelou later paraphrased this and many attribute it to her.)


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