Starting a New Job

A new year is upon us… a time for new beginnings. Perhaps this will include a new job. If so, here are some suggestions on how to start off in the best way. Please note that these suggestions apply to the ”average” new job; they may not apply at all atypical situations such as when an employee is hired with the specific task of shaking things up (which could be the case in, for example, an acquisition).

1 – Go slowly

Naturally you want to make a good first impression. But beware the temptation to rush into recommending improvements without adequate understanding. For example, it may seem obvious to you after only a few weeks on the job that a system your new firm is using to track project profitability is outdated. But before suggesting a replacement learn about why that particular system was chosen, what its advantages are currently, and what degree of disruption would occur if the system were replaced. To repeat the oft-cited dictum, “First seek to understand, then to be understood.”

Similarly, go slowly when it comes to forging bonds in the workplace. Due diligence should be exercised before you start selecting those to bond with – you’ll want to avoid getting too close to the grumblers and gossips, even though they may appear to have valuable insights. Those insights may start to poison your impression of your new job.

Build consensus and alliances

As a new employee you’re going to be observed very carefully by your fellow workers. In order to maximize your effectiveness you’ll want to bond with your colleagues, bosses, and clients. Related to point #1 above, seek to learn as much as you can about them, prioritizing that over impressing them with your knowledge, skills, or accomplishments. There’ll be adequate time for that. Establish a reputation as someone who’s a team player, not as someone who’s chomping at the bit to demonstrate how much smarter they are than their peers. And don’t hesitate to put yourself out for others at work (especially your boss – see below) so as to build credibility, trust, and affection.

I can’t overstate the value of building a relationship with a well-regarded mentor who understands the ins and outs of the interpersonal dynamics at your new place of employment. That mentor will also be really useful in helping you with the next point.

Be sensitive to your workplace’s culture

The culture of a workplace is multi-dimensional, spanning such visible realms as dress code and office/cubicle decor to the more opaque realms of tolerance for creativity or deference to hierarchy. As a new employee you’ll initially want to be sure to fit in (or at least not stick too far out). That’s not to say you should become merely a clone – there’ll be ample opportunity to carve out a comfortable and appropriate image for yourself once you’ve learned the lay of the land. So, if office birthday parties are generally celebrated with home baked cookies, think twice before popping a bottle of Veuve Clicqot, as well-meaning a gesture as that might be.

What if you determine that you’re not a great match with the organization’s culture? That, for example, it’s fairly bureaucratic and set in its way, whereas you’re someone who likes to shake things up at least every now and then. Well, it’s unfortunate that you didn’t discover this until you reported for work (you didn’t do enough up-front fact finding), but beware the temptation to ignore the mismatch and just focus on performing. Even the best performers can strike out if they’re not a good fit with the organization’s culture. Either find a way to improve your cultural alignment, or start looking around.

Impress your boss

In most cases, your boss is the most important person in your new work life*. The more you can learn about your boss and the challenges that he or she is facing the better you will be able to add value. Making your boss’ life easier should rank right up there with performing your job well as a primary objective.

5. “Begin before you begin”

The brilliant writer and researcher Daniel Pink, in his brand new book “When – The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” suggests that you visualize yourself “transforming” into your new role, imagining successful interactions with co-workers and your boss. “It’s hard to get a fast start when your self-image is stuck in the past. By mentally picturing yourself ‘becoming’ a new person even before you enter the front door, you’ll hit the carpet running.”

6. Sustain your morale with small wins

Starting in a new position is anxiety-provoking, and it’s easy to fall prey to self doubt early on. Another Pink recommendation addressing this issue: when you enter a new role, set up for yourself small targets with a high probability of successful completion, and celebrate when you achieve them. They’ll give you the momentum and energy to take on more daunting challenges further down the road.

*There are, of course, exceptions, such as a situation in which you’re being brought in to ultimately replace your under-performing boss.

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