Starting Off On the Right
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
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."
"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.
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
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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