Getting a new job is exciting – but now the pressure’s on to prove yourself…
The first several months of a new job can be incredibly stressful as you work hard to make a good impression and show your new employer that they made a good hiring decision. But sometimes trying too hard can backfire and your efforts end up alienating the very people you are trying to impress. Here is a story of how one manager navigated this tricky terrain:
John had just been hired to head up the Operations Team at a successful, growing company. He was eager to prove to the board that they had made a good hiring decision and started the job with enthusiasm. But his first few months were turning out to be much more challenging than he had anticipated. He would use his best judgment to make a decision, only to find out he’d accidentally left someone key out of the loop. He came up with good ideas, only to get push back from people who would patiently explain that the ideas had already been tried. He had basic questions and was afraid to ask his busy peers for fear of appearing incompetent. He felt like he couldn’t move projects forward and feared that those who hired him might start having second thoughts if he didn’t get some tangible wins soon.
COACHING INSIGHTS, DECISIONS, AND ACTIONS
John had always been well-liked and respected in his prior positions, and for the first time in many years he was beginning to doubt himself. It was a big relief for him to find out that this is a common pattern for anyone moving into a new organization. There are cultural nuances, jargon, and interpersonal dynamics that everyone in the company takes for granted, and no one thinks to explain to newcomers. This “way” of doing things is only noticeable when the awkwardness of an outsider’s behavior brings it to the surface. Usually it takes four to six months for a newcomer to soak up the ins and outs of the new culture, and during that time getting the most basic parts of a new job done can be painfully slow. Unfortunately, these same four to six months are when you are being watched and judged. Just when you want to make your best impression, you are completely handicapped.
We discussed various ways to accelerate his assimilation process, and John liked the idea of building a relationship map. He drew a flow chart of the organization, adding new people and connecting them to others as he met them. We identified eight questions that would help him understand their goals, how his role connected to theirs, and how they could optimally work together:
1. What are your most important goals and objectives?
2. What do you need most to achieve those goals and objectives?
3. What do you need in particular from my department to help you achieve those goals and objectives?
4. How do you see my role connecting to yours, and how do you envision us working together?
5. How do you prefer to communicate (e-mail, voice mail, lunches, quick hallway conversations, meetings…)?
6. What are some of the biggest barriers / frustrations / challenges you face in your work?
7. Who do you trust to go to for support and advice when you need it?
8. If I do well at my job, how will that impact you?
His goal was to answer these eight questions for each person on the relationship map.
The relationship map project gave John something tangible to work on and got him initiating conversations he might otherwise have avoided. He was initially worried that the project might take away from his work, but he soon saw that the information he got from his conversations enabled him to get more done faster.
He found people much more receptive when he showed genuine interest in what they were trying to accomplish. In one case he discovered that another department was working on a project that could be combined with something his team was doing, and his work with the other department head to make it happen gained him visible win # 1. He also found that as he probed for what was currently frustrating people, he was able to come up with new ideas that people wanted to try, and this led to more wins.
But most of all, he started feeling like himself again. His network within the company solidified, and he felt confident asking “stupid” questions anytime he wasn’t sure of something. Because the relationship map included everyone in his department, he was able to develop a deeper understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, and goals of team members and work more effectively with all of them.
Acclimating to a new organization is usually more stressful than looking for a new job in the first place. By working with a coach, John learned that this was a normal part of starting a new position, and he stopped questioning his competence. This also enabled him to take a proactive approach that gave him a sense of control in a situation with a lot of unknowns. A relationship map is a useful tool for anyone in an organization because it helps you get outside of your own head and see things from the perspectives of those who work with you. In John’s case it helped him mitigate the natural suspicion that most people have for a newcomer in a corporate environment, accelerate his assimilation process, and build the foundation for a strong network within the organization.
Pass it on…
John’s story is quite common, so if you find yourself in a similar situation don’t despair and see if the relationship mapping idea will work for you. You don’t have to use the same questions or even have eight of them. You don’t even have to schedule meetings to answer the questions; you can challenge yourself to find the answers to the questions in whatever manner most suits the environment. The point is to create questions that will help you learn more about what things look like from the other person’s perspective.
If you have a friend who has just landed, is immersed in the first six months of a new job, or who is responsible for bringing in and coaching new managers – please feel free to pass this story on in case they can use it.