Starting Off On the Right Foot
From Survival to Success in Your New Job

When business and career psychologist James Waldroop counsels young executives who are starting assignments in a new company, he urges them to act like anthropologists. "For the first six months on the job, your assignment is to understand the customs of this new tribe you've joined," notes Waldroop, the former codirector of MBA Career Development Programs at HBS who is a principal and cofounder of Peregrine Partners of Brookline, Massachusetts. "You need to familiarize yourself with the hierarchy. Who has the power and influence? Are there alliances or schisms in the group, or tensions within particular departments? Did one of your new colleagues apply for your job? You need to be in an information-gathering mode."

Waldroop's advice may sound like a primer for contestants on the hit television show Survivor, but it in fact addresses the most common mistake he encounters in his work with executives in transition: the tendency to assume that "everyone is just like me." "You are not the person in the next office," he emphasizes. "Most of us imagine that other people share our values and are motivated by the same forces that motivate us. But that just isn't so."

In order to succeed in a new job, Waldroop urges managers to:

Take notes on colleagues.

Especially for the first few weeks, jot down notes on your boss, team members, and direct reports at the end of each day. "Write down what you notice about them," stresses Waldroop, "not what you think of them." Some people seem preoccupied with teamwork; others talk a lot about productivity or long-term planning. "These are important clues about what motivates colleagues, which you can use to your advantage later on."

Ask a lot of questions.
For the first month or so, managers have a free pass to ask anything without sounding stupid. "Acknowledging areas of ignorance helps you gather information and provides good modeling for others," Waldroop notes. "Be up front with people. Let them know that you will be relying heavily on their input at first. And make it clear that they should feel free to ask you questions."

Communicate face-to-face.
"You're trying to build relationships, not your AOL buddy list. Walk around and talk to people." E-mails and even phone calls are too easily misinterpreted, especially at first.

Be cautious.
First impressions stick. Remember that anything you tell someone about yourself can never be taken back.

Talk less, listen more.
"Corporate meetings are not first-year HBS classes," observes Waldroop. "You won't score any points by stealing 'airtime' from the person sitting next to you."

Waldroop acknowledges that the first six to twelve months on a new assignment are likely to be fairly stressful. "Switching jobs is hard work," he says. "You're processing a lot of new information and anxiety is normal and even healthy in a situation like that." After a few months, he relates, "your stress level should plateau, and your effectiveness as a manager should rise. That's how you'll know you've made a successful transition."


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