But business life is rarely so black-and-white. I thought I might explore briefly some ideas for starting in a new work environment, which, dear readers, are built on comments from former clients and current human resource and other managers who have had to field requests for such advice.
- Say “Thank You.” Before even starting a new job or at the very beginning, let your network contacts know you have landed, and give them your new contact information. Even if they had only a marginal or passive role in helping, everyone likes good news. This is also a beginning commitment to an ongoing professional relationship that may be mutually beneficial in the future.
- Establish priorities with your new boss. Be clear on the definition for success. I had a client lose her job as CEO of a division of an apparel company after one year, even though she had improved the division from -41% of the goal to -3%. Her boss, the corporate CEO, told her he defined “turnaround” as being profitable and released her. One way of looking at this is to ask, “Where should I be in three months? Six months?” Or “What should we be proud of in looking back on my one-year anniversary?”
- Understand the culture and structure of the new organization. Even though hired as full-time employees, we encourage our clients to continue to act as consultants, as they would in job interviews, to gain knowledge and assess the interplay of the corporate culture, people, and objectives. An executive from Polaroid told me the story of a new facilities manager who wanted to remove a strange — and to him — ugly eyesore on a building fronting the main parking lot. Fortunately, his secretary explained that the eyesore was a cushioned retaining wall built for Dr. Edwin Land in the ’50’s. The inventor was often lost in thought and didn’t stop sharply enough to avoid scratching both the building and his car, so his engineers constructed the strange but functional wall. Even though Dr. Land had been dead for years, this was almost a shrine. Had a new mid-level executive removed it, he might well have not survived.
- Introduce yourself to everyone. Don’t wait for them to do so. Betsy, a new hire, arrived early for her first day as a marketing manager and sat, waiting in reception. A relatively young woman came in, and struggled with shades, apologizing for the darkness. Thinking this was the receptionist, Betsy introduced herself, offering her help. The woman responded in kind, saying she was the divisional CEO. This chance meeting was a great beginning, as Betsy made an impact beyond a standard greeting. People often expect the “old timers” to welcome them. Don’t wait — introduce yourself.
- Meet with subordinates (if you have them) promptly, and one-on-one. Solicit their advice, concerns, and needs. Joe, a ten-year employee in IT, accepted another job because his new manager did not approve his regular yearly increase for two months after it was due. Don’t let people feel ignored.
- Identify key peer relationships and explore needs. If you didn’t meet peers in the interview process, move quickly to find out their concerns and opinions. Mark, a new textbook marketing manager, got an earful from a territorial sales manager about the shortcomings of his predecessor, which enabled Mark to avoid falling into the same trap.
- Keep your work style and focus. Don’t work 14-hour days unless you intend to do that ongoing. Establish reasonable and focused style and systems.
- Develop an “atta-boy” file — for others and for yourself. Keep track of the positive, helpful actions of others — superiors, subordinates, and peers — and remember to give positive feedback. Similarly, a list of your own accomplishments will be helpful for future performance reviews or resume updates.
- Do a career check-up once a year. Many of our clients ask us to sit with them yearly, perhaps before their yearly review. A primary goal is to look objectively at how well the job and corporate expectations fit the individual’s career goals. Joyce, for example, realized she had done such a good job installing a new financial accounting system that she was likely to be promoted to VP-accounting systems. However, she really wanted to move more toward project accounting and potential client interface. We constructed a scenario to make that redirection possible.