Initial wins at a new job
May 14, 2012 1:59 PM   Subscribe

First day/week and month on a new job

I am in the market for a new career position. I recently read an interesting article on what a product manager does on the first day/week/month on the job. That has triggered this question below which can be for any profession (not just product management). Two part question here-

1. What do you do on the first few days/weeks/a month on a new job. What are the essentials? How do you get politically savvy on the job. How do you figure out and what do you figure out you absolutely need to do on the new job? The ask is more around political skills/making an impression/establishing your brand and knowing the right people as well as getting on the right side of the boss and figuring out what key deliverables are to get an initial win.

2. Where do you go for profession help. for e.g. your boss asks you to get a process document and you have never done that beore, which sites do you run to to get the "in" on how to do that. Do you have mentors who help?

Thanks for your input and for sharing as I dont want to be a bull in a china shop but want to tread carefully so I dont waste time on things are not going to be impactful in the long run but get some quick initial wins in.
posted by pakora1 to Work & Money (4 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
What are the essentials?

Eyes and ears open, mouth shut unless you need to ask a question. The first few days are to be spent absorbing as much information as possible. No one needs to know what you think of things, or how they can be better. You can do that when you've established yourself as a competent, capable person who can do the tasks assigned to them. Master everything the way you're taught, then make suggestions on how to improve things.

How do you get politically savvy on the job.

If you're asking this question, the best thing you can possibly do is keep your nose clean, don't talk shit and don't spread rumors. Establishing yourself as a trustworthy person capable of discretion is huge. If you're the employee who knows how to keep things under wraps, you're the employee that gets let in on the news long before anyone else does.
posted by griphus at 2:05 PM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

The First 90 Days. Very helpful.
posted by thinkpiece at 2:09 PM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Let me second The First 90 Days. It's targeted at senior executives, but it's very helpful indeed.

I recently read an interesting article on what a product manager does on the first day/week/month on the job. Do you mind sharing the link to that article?
posted by gertzedek at 5:25 PM on May 14, 2012

Best answer: 1. What do you do on the first few days/weeks/a month on a new job. What are the essentials?

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. How you act in the beginning will set up how people then treat you. How people treat you will then reinforce how you act. This momentum will be difficult to change once established. That goes for your on-time performance, your dress-code, your introductions with managers and colleagues, and everything else.

A good friend is an elementary school teacher. He said that on the first day of class each year, he walks in and establishes his authority. He is the teacher, and he has control of the class. He goes after each goof-off, any aggression, note-passing, and the rest of the 'bad' behaviours. He continues that firm behaviour for the first two weeks, regardless of how wonderful or lovely the students are. For those first two weeks, he is inaccessible and a bit distant. He is not himself, he is The Teacher.

After a few weeks, he lightens up. He laughs a lot, tells jokes, and gives his students a great degree of latitude in both their behaviour and the assignments. His goal in general is for them to understand the principles behind the rules, rather than adhere to the rules themselves.

However, due to the impression he made in the beginning, the class never forgets that he has the authority. He can be very distant and simply enforce the rules. Thus, he is able to both engage and enrich the students without losing control.

That is been a very valuable lesson in the corporate world, for in essence, an office is simply an evolution of the classroom -- often with less crayons -- but the politics and dynamics are similar. Thus, in the beginning, consider how you want to establish yourself. Who do you want to be, and how do you want to be regarded? Then, treat yourself accordingly, and you will make that impression on the rest of your new colleagues -- building momentum in that direction.

How do you get politically savvy on the job.

Active listening. Pay attention not only to the content of people's presentations, but the tones of their voice and body language.

I was working for a Major UK Retailer on a contract project and spent several months embedded with one of their Large Corporate Units. The politics were very subtle, as the culture was designed to promote collaboration and active contribution by all team members. Thus, in meetings, the leader would address each person individually, hear their thoughts, take copious notes, and repeat. Yet, later, it was obvious that some ideas were 'listened to' more than others.

The subtleties began becoming obvious. The leader would arrive to the meeting room twenty minutes before the scheduled time -- indeed, the meeting rooms had been arranged for thirty minutes before the start of the meetings. And he would sit with his notes, and silently work. I began working alongside of him, as we had quite tight deadlines and a great degree of interaction was required. Before the meeting, a few members of senior staff would come in, and have brief chats. Very short, just a minute or three. They would run their draft ideas by him, and he would give them a sentence or two of feedback.

It wasn't hard to see the connection between those managers and the ideas that were later accepted. And he did not announce that he would be in the meeting room twenty minutes early, and for anyone keen on feedback to drop in. He just did it.

So that was the first dimension. The second dimension of politics are the informal processes that surround it. When we had those workshop meetings, the same people that would come ahead of the meetings sat together. They often were having coffee in the canteen together. They traded knowledge and information. They could have easily said to the other people in the room, the way to get your idea across, was to come early and pitch it, but they did not. Thus, the subtleties of corporate gossip. Informal alliances form, and these alliances are almost equally as important as formal reporting lines.

Through active listening, you will begin to see the patterns and connections. On another consulting project, the senior manager absolutely loved golf. He had clubs in his office. His assistant made the point that he loved the iPad for following golf matches. So you talk to the guy about golf. I didn't play golf at the time, but I absolutely love golf courses. I had recently stayed at a golf course in Cannes, France, and thus talked to him about that course, and Cannes itself. From there, we spoke often about France. He would find me in the canteen, and tell me about his most recent weekend in France, and did I have any recommendations for his next trip. Thus building the informal power.

He never showed gross favouritism in the office, however, he would call me on the weekend for a bit of a chat about the Loire Valley, and drop in who he thought were the problem people on the project, and give a detail or two about how he managed them, and what would they would pass along.

Active listening will reveal the world to you. Pay attention to people, get to know them. The final moment is when you ask them for something -- the beginning of the favour cycle. Usually, you start with something innocuous -- dropping something off or booking a meeting room. That small test will let you know where you sit with them.

From these small beginnings in listening will come a greater ability to navigate the power structures. For example, when a promotion will be coming up, often each senior leader will have a junior leader they look after and are grooming. The informational advantage can be substantial. However, senior staff do not simply dole out information to junior staff; they reciprocate. Thus, you are navigating the politics both upward and downward. You gather information, filter it, and drip-feed it upward.

The beginning of a job is a great time to seek out these power structures, for whilst you are new and may not see behind the scenes yet, you are also fresh and will not be biased in any way. That bias comes hard and comes fast. I recommend keeping a notebook and journaling about people when you first meet them, for you can never get that instinct back. If you meet someone and think they're a tosser, they may later become your best friend. It's always knowing what your gut instinct was from the beginning.

How do you figure out and what do you figure out you absolutely need to do on the new job?

There are two categories of knowledge that are relevant: general, and specific. General are the things that everyone in the role should know. Specific are the ways in which the organisation has shaped the general to their working practices. If you're in IT management, there are very obvious metrics like cost per user, ROI, etc. Those are applied uniquely. So when you have questions, always phrase them in the context of the specific, regardless of if they are about the general.

When one of my assistants came on in an IT shop, he would always ask very general questions. He hadn't worked a lot with CSS (this was back when IT and web lived in the same place) and was constantly asking me questions about styles and syntax and all the rest. The impression that he gave me was that whilst he was eager and opening to learning, he had a big fat hole in his knowledge and skill-set. And I felt for him. When I had arrived, I had not known much about a different technology area. But I always masked my knowledge gap with the specific. "How are we trying to use this widget? What does the widget need to do that it's not doing? I've seen widgets before, but I haven't seen anyone use this widget in this particular way."

Two things about that. The first is you don't end up looking like you have a Gaping Hole in your skill set, and, more importantly, it shows you are results-focused. Someone once asked me if that was disingenuous. I don't think it's disingenuous if you develop the skill set in real-time. If you simply mask your weaknesses and ride up the ladder, eventually you'll blow something up and the result will be poor. However, if you target your questions to the specific, and build your knowledge of the general in real-time, you don't look like a fool whilst getting the job done.

Point being, how you act is as important as what you do.

The ask is more around political skills/making an impression/establishing your brand and knowing the right people as well as getting on the right side of the boss and figuring out what key deliverables are to get an initial win.

For this, pay attention to what people are focusing their time on. Watch what other people are delivering. I was working on reports once and we used to send them out with all manner of spelling mistakes and all kinds of formatting errors. I spent ages correcting them and making it perfect... and was reamed to Ganesh for it. The boss wanted the errors in there to reflect the budget cuts the client had made. Most times, the clients did not care. Every now and then, they would say "Hey, we need to pass this up, can you spend a few days making it presentable" and then we billed accordingly. Once that was realised, huge wins came, but it wasn't obvious and only came through watching and asking.

Thus, there are no rules for the right people, the right side, or what the initial wins are. The wrong way to do it is to think you know anything. Never be that guy who says, "At my Old Place, we used to...". It's the same as going out on a date with someone and bringing up your ex. Always come back to the question, "what are we trying to do here."

In terms of the right people and quick wins to establish yourself, it helps to differentiate quickly. A good friend runs an Alumni Group for our University. When he arrives at a job, one of the first things he does is invite the senior leaders to come speak at some point. He doesn't invite them for anything in particular, more it's how he introduces himself. If you put yourself in their shoes, what are they after? 1) They want productive, proactive people. 2) Recruiting is always an issue, and 3) they constantly need to build their personal profiles. His offer appeals to all of that. Thus, they come to know him as the guy they just hired who is completely focused on helping them out. He understands their needs. It's working very well for him.

Put yourself in the bosses' shoes, and consider what is really important to the boss. This may or may not be the same as what will make you look good. I used to hate sending out reports filled with spelling errors. But then again, I was not the boss. Now that I'm quite a bit more senior, I have friends who obsess about their reports. I always ask them what they are being payed for? Is it the ideas or as a proofreader? Does the boss care? There needs to be a certain level of quality, obviously, however you need to figure out where that quality is expected and put your energies there.

Finally, you have to realise that the people above you are People. They have lives. They have troubles. Their children win football tournaments. Their partners lose jobs. Each person above you has an entire universe operating behind them. And that is where emotional intelligence comes in. You can proffer emotional support to your boss; rarely (if they're good) will they ask for it. The boss of a friend was going through a divorce. It was gossiped about and then nothing was said. The boss never said anything I don't think. Yet divorce is not a short process in many cases. It can be tedious and difficult. It runs people down and really messes them up. And those people have to go put on the happy face each day and be the boss.

The friend would perform random acts of kindness for the boss. She checked in on him a bit more than usual, making jokes, getting him coffees, asking if he needed anything from X Department. And he would snap at her, she shouldn't be wasting her time getting damn coffee. But she kept asking. She made sure her workspace was clean; she would clean up other people's workspaces. Emotional intelligence. The man's mind as occupied with his life crumbling. Work had to be done, but his plate was literally overfilled at any moment.

The quick wins changed. Now he didn't need help winning new business as much as he needed help staying in business. Emotional intelligence will show you those kinds of things. And key to emotional intelligence is empathy.

The Teacher mentioned was empathetic to the fact that young children need to know who's boss. They need structure and discipline. They crave it. Whilst he didn't like being the tough guy in the beginning, he knew they needed it.

2. Where do you go for profession help. for e.g. your boss asks you to get a process document and you have never done that beore, which sites do you run to to get the "in" on how to do that. Do you have mentors who help?

Ask for templates so you can ensure you start from the right place. "My old place used a very unorthodox format, thus it'd be go to see what the results here look like." Again, it's how you say it as much as what you say.

In terms of mentors, find someone to speak with who you can trust. Establish trust in a non-critical way first. If someone does you a simple favour and holds it over your head, that is not the person to ask. The person to ask is the one who likes you. They can be junior or senior. Don't try to be everything to everyone; focus on being the right thing to the right people.
posted by nickrussell at 3:37 AM on May 15, 2012 [19 favorites]

« Older How to ship cheap and reliable to PR?   |   longform for fiction Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.