3 Easy Ways to a Great Start in the New Job

Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist

Margaret Mead - Image via Wikipedia

Two conversations with two people last week, each with a new job; one was ecstatic, the other terrified.

There are three things you can do to get off to a great start with a new job. This post tells you about them.

Despite  advice, people don’t always leverage the interviewing process to collect the type of information that fuels a good starts with the new role. It’s part human nature; candidates are trying to be polite, not ask awkward questions, and appear to be an interested – if not eager – candidates. Interviewing, though, is a goldmine of an opportunity to both collect data, and lay the groundwork for a great start in the new job.

And if you didn’t? Then new hire period – newbies if you will – is a chance to catch up.

When you start the new role in the new firm there are (at least) three  things you’ll want to nail within the first 90 days; these three things also apply if you’re changing even within the same firm. Michael Watkins in his book The First 90 Days has some some helpful ideas though in my work with clients  – companies that tend to be the scrappier, more nimble types of firms that exist in the San Francisco Bay Area – there is more structure and formality in Watkins book than I see in most companies with whom I work.

Here’s the 3 things to discover:

  • What’s the culture of the workgroup and the firm?
  • What are the 2-3 big ticket items that internal and external clients (and colleagues) would be thrilled if you achieved? And what are the 2-3 thing that people want you to avoid doing – the types of things that are unhelpful and annoying?
  • What are the best ways to work with your boss(es)? And what are the things to avoid with you boss – the pet peeves and irritants that make you go from favored new hire to dog house inhabitant?

When you have that 45 – 90 day newbie hat on you can mostly get away with asking questions and count on getting great, real answers. Go much later in your tenure though and that opportunity window – why are you asking those questions? – begins to close. Channeling Margaret Mead – taking a nimble anthropologist’s view supplemented by a few key questions – is an approach that is guaranteed to help you get better traction, and faster results, in any new role.

And like Mead, style counts; humble, matter of fact, understated rather than demanding (“I’ve seen this done different ways; I’m curious how do we do it here?”), are attributes that will help you surface data and answers.

Here’s the questions and observations recommended to observe and ask in your early days in the new role:

  • What’s the culture of the workgroup and the firm? How do people behave? Is it an early in, early out shop? Do people get rewarded and recognized for fighting fires, or preventing fires? Is it formal – all meetings, appointments, and Powerpoint decks – or more informal with lots information changing hands and minds with ad hoc sessions, whiteboards, and “by the way” touchpoints. Do people all dress the same (implying an understood dress code) or is it varied by things like department, age, location or hierarchy? Last, and not least, is it a “what you see is what you get” place or is there a vibrant grapevine that means “the meeting after the meeting” is where information gets shared and decisions get made?
  • What are the 2-3 big ticket items that internal and external clients (and colleagues) would be thrilled if you achieved? And what are the 2-3 thing that people want you to avoid doing – the types of things that are unhelpful and annoying? This is a great chance to ask rich questions with the newbie face; “What are 2-3 things that someone in my function/department/role could do / achieve that would be outstanding / great / terrific / really helpful to you? What are 2-3 things that anyone in my function / department / role should avoid doing because they’re not helpful / don’t add value / are plain dumb?
  • What are the best ways to work with your boss(es)? And what are the things to avoid with you boss – the pet peeves and irritants that make you go from favored new hire to dog house inhabitant? “Boss, what the types of things you that irk you from one of your direct reports (like me), and what are some of the things that you like to see from people who report to you?” Find out who does well with your boss(es) and who is rumored to have done badly; are there patterns present that you can see to tell you what to do and what to avoid. Ask your boss who has done well with them and who has struggled – more anthropology field work – and see if there are obvious differences.

New jobs are akin to Mead’s take on life; it’s “..like a parachute jump: you have to get it right the first time.”  And you have a great opportunity with a little thought to get a great start to that new job.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

 

 

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