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Industryweek 8116 Mary Barra

Mary Barra's Five Tips for Starting a New Job

Jan. 21, 2015
General Motors CEO offers a little advice for workers ready to make their mark in a new career.

Millennials entering the workforce today face a wild, unpredictable future.

According to research by Future Workplace, this new generation of workers can expect to hold 15 to 20 different jobs over the course of their careers, bouncing from company to company and industry to industry and whims and opportunities develop.

Contrast that with the career of General Motors (IW 500/5) CEO, Mary Barra.

Barra has spent her entire career at GM – starting as a co-op student in 1980 and slowly working her way to the top from there.

In the course of that climb, however, she has held over a dozen different positions in the company, ranging from HR and communications to real manufacturing and engineering.

That experience, she reports, has taught her some important lessons about starting fresh.

Drawing from that, she has drafted a few tips for both millennial wanderers and focused ladder-climbers to help them make their mark in their next new endeavor:

  1. Put the Customer at the Center of Everything You Do
    Whether you work in accounting, engineering, or sales, whether you’re straight out of school or an EVP, remember that by focusing on the customer you will drive better performance. Their needs should inform every decision you make. If the voice of the customer isn't already reflected in your new position, find ways in your first 90 days – and every day after that – to ensure that it is.

  2. Listen to Your Team
    The first 90 days is your best opportunity to earn the respect and trust of the people with whom you work. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Be open, seek solutions, and listen more than you talk. When you value what others say, they start to open up, and that flow of ideas leads to better results.

  3. Strengthen Your Team
    One of your responsibilities as a leader is to ensure that you have the right people on your team. Expect and demand an all-in commitment from everyone. If you don’t have the right people, you’re not doing your job – because you’re too busy doing their work. If you have an employee whose unhappiness is holding back the team, help him find happiness somewhere else.

  4. Take Personal Responsibility
    If you inherit a problem with your new job, don’t dismiss it as the last person’s legacy. Never hide behind your newbie status or use it as an excuse to put off what needs to be done. Own the problem, develop a plan to fix it, and address it head on. Your team’s reputation depends not just on what you do right, but what you do if something goes wrong.

  5. Adapt and Learn
    At the end of the day, your success will largely be determined not just by how good your plan is, but how well you adapt to meet the changing needs of the customer. Adaptation really comes down to one thing: leadership. And a big part of leadership is being able to look over the horizon and anticipate the changes to come.

Read Mary Barra's full post at LinkedIn: The First 90 Days in a New Job

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