The four phases of a successful assignment

Whilst recently working with an ambitious group who were at the early stages of their new assignments with a client organisation, we explored both their actual experiences and their views on what an ideal experience would entail.

Their experiences could be safely described as mixed; ranging from exciting and challenging to terrible and slow. Through the workshops we discussed what the causes where of both these positive and negative experiences. It became clear that as well as having a great boss that cares about your development and the work itself being interesting and varied, matching the reality of work with the expectation of what it would be like was a large contributory factor.

We explored what an ideal assignment would look like in the first three months, six months, one year and two year periods and the following periods started to emerge:

• Selection and pre-boarding
• Honeymoon and networking
• Productivity and reputation
• Delivery and influence

Selection and pre-boarding is where expectations are set. The greater the understanding of the work, the environment, the people, what it will be and feel like at this stage, the better the experience will feel. Pre-empting the journey you will go on, prepares you for the good and the bad times that lie ahead in all meaningful work.
Selection provides opportunity to discuss one-on-one the role with the key stakeholders, getting clear on their expectations and the value they expect from you. It’s the first stage of relationship building and so a chance to explore and share goals, aspirations and how your personal strengths can be put to best use.

Reflection on the discussions through selection need to be built on with thorough research prior to day one. Understanding organisation purpose, vision, values and behaviours – how stuff gets done around here, are essential as early as possible. Take this time to clarify what success looks like for you in this assignment – write it down and sketch out the milestones and actions that will lead you there – develop your plan. Think about how you want to be seen by others – what impact do you want to have and your reputation.

Honeymoon and networking is a stage that is often overlooked. Rather than viewing this as a soft, easy, gentle introduction, see this as an opportunity to build the foundations for your long-term success whilst others are still getting to know you and vice versa. The urge to hit the ground running and show what you can do is often overwhelming and releases an emotional surge that comes with feeling you have added value and proving they have made the right decision in appointing you! But be mindful that this urge needs to be managed. Not to the extent that you don’t take the quick wins and bring early value, but so that it is matched with laying the foundations for your longer term success. At the same time, don’t get too anxious if the role is not shaping up to be exactly how it was described on paper. In the early stages focus on relationships above actual task, take the opportunity in the honeymoon period to really get to know the key people – how they think, what’s driving them, etc. Identify ‘coaches’, who are likely to remain informal but will play a part in you achieving what you need to. Connect with a wider network than you think you need, and listen, watch and learn what’s going on. Reflect back on your plan and add richer detail or amend where necessary. These insights and relationships will put you in good stead when the real work starts and the going gets tough.

Productivity and reputation comes next as the expectations from both yourself and others start to rise and you feel you’ve got a good understanding of the organisation, how it works and what you need to do to bring value and move towards your ambitions for the assignment. You’ll know when this time comes, but don’t rush into it if your plan is not in place or key relationships still need work. Once you have the plan, the backing of key stakeholders and the resources to move things forward, don’t hold back. Through your work, continue to deepen relationship and build your personal reputation and brand.

Delivery and influence is the phase where you feel you’ve reached peak performance and you are in control of the current task in hand. You have strong relationships with key influencers and you are now not only able to meet the expectation of you, but able to shape and influence the future direction of the work that needs to be done – both in line with what the business needs, and in line with your own personal goals and drivers. Your are initiating and self-directing your own learning through your work. You now have opportunity to reflect on your journey and the challenges you’ve faced along the way and use this to help and coach others in similar situations or to achieve their own personal assignment or career ambitions. You are motivated and feel prepared for the next phase of your career and your experience from this assignment will enable you to progress through the assignment phases purposefully.

The timing of each of these periods can vary depending on the individual, the nature of the work/assignment and the environment or culture of the organisation. In general though, it was recognised that the honeymoon period could typically be the first 3 months, the productivity and reputation period was typically the first 3-6 months and the delivery and influence 6-18 months.

We are sharing our insights into these four stages with those who attended the workshops and with those who are setting out on their first assignments in what we hope will be a long and successful career.

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