In a recent LinkedIn post, Erika James, the new dean of the Wharton School, shared reflections on her first 90 days. Dean James highlighted three key strategies she has been following as someone who started a new job during a pandemic: ask more questions, find the energizers, and embrace “swift trust.”

The need to establish swift trust — the willingness to suspend doubt about the dependability of people you do not know in the short term — resonated strongly with me. Throughout my life I have found that trusting colleagues upon meeting them is usually what you have to do.

Consider how you determine someone is not trustworthy. Generally it’s when a person does something that violated the trust you placed in them. When we start a new job, we have to assume that our colleagues are dependable and capable until we learn otherwise. As we continue in our roles, this requirement remains a focus as people shift roles, new employees start, and our responsibilities grow.

Conversely, the new person on a team should walk in with her colleagues assuming she’s dependable and capable—that’s why she was hired, right? Reaching the milestone where your reputation becomes synonymous with those characteristics should be a key focus in anyone’s first 90 days. We want the swift trust that has been placed in us by our hire to be confirmed and then flourish over time.

In every new organization I’ve joined during my career, I’ve taken four steps to ensure the swift trust given to me was earned:

Consult the Historian

Develop a relationship with the person who has been at the organization the longest. This person will become your Wikipedia for understanding this new company. The institutional memory, as well as assessments of your new colleagues, will aid you as you learn the culture.

Meet the “Mayor”

Partner with the person who knows everyone. In order to establish your reputation, you need the key people to meet you and witness your work. The person who knows everyone will help you do that.

Excel During “Interview Overtime”

Your first three months are an extension of your interview process. Think about how you presented your credentials and leverage what you learned from those you interviewed with. In my current role, for example, I referenced my interview notes for the first several months on the job. They helped me remember what I had already shared with whom and what people needed from my role.

Score Early Wins

Identify and then deliver two to three wins in your first 90 days. This step, which you achieve by following the first three, will confirm the swift trust your colleagues have placed in you.


Katherine Primus is executive director of communications and stewardship for Wharton External Affairs.