Designing a job

What's both fun and alarming about beginning a new job, as I did three weeks ago, is the complete disorientation I feel. It's like being in a foreign land with little in the way of signposts of any sort. It's a kind of giant scribble. Briefings, introductions and inductions are more confusing than helpful. I've found that the information they give only starts to make sense a couple of weeks in. On day one I'd rather know how to map to the printer, where the document appears (not at the printer nearest to me) and how to operate the photocopier (password requirements).

Part of my induction required taking a one hour on-line course about being responsible about information, including a section on not leaving printed out documents on the printer. I took the course on the Friday afternoon of my first week. Shortly before leaving the office I printed something out, collected my stuff and left. It was only when I got home I realized that the document was on the printer. I wondered whether I should rush back and retrieve it over the weekend, but didn't know whether I could gain access with my temporary pass. Ho hum.

The disorientation comes from all sides: Like the place I now work in has doors from the lift lobby into the office space that only open with a swipe card. That's understandable going in from the lift lobby but to get out to the lift lobby from the office you have to push a button. Pushing the door doesn't open it. I'm monitoring how long it takes me to learn to automatically push the wall button, instead of pushing the door.

Learning the acronyms is a hurdle that takes while to jump – I now have a list of over 30 – as does using fairly common words like 'policy' and 'department' in the very specific way the organization uses them which is different from the normal usage I am familiar with. Working with arcane log-in requirements for laptops, phones, VPN access, etc is all part of the process, as is learning which social media and cloud sites are inaccessible for reasons I am not clear on. And all of this which I think of as basic navigation stuff is paralleled by having to quickly learn the specific seascape as it were.

This is challenging. I'm looking for clues and subtle signs on where the power lies, who the influencers are, what is ok and not ok, what the language codes are, who is in which network, how things really get done, who is the 'go-to' person/people for information and support, what is valued and what is scoffed at, where the sensitivities are and where to tread carefully. Like anyone brought in to change the organization I am told I have a mandate to challenge – hmm.

I've met people who've worked for years for an organization as an external consultant. If they've then joined that company as an employee a whole hidden side of the organization becomes part of their landscape – they are now exposed to stuff that was outside their field of experience when they were hired for their external expertise. They're often surprised and dismayed. Some leave – overwhelmed by the cognitive dissonance.

My PhD thesis was on executive level newcomers joining organizations and from this I wrote a series of ten checklists (See April tool of the month for a draft of one of them) to develop newcomer success. I dug these out to see if I could (re)learn anything from them. They were published by the Chartered Management Institute and I see they are still available (here's an example of another one) so maybe the experience of joining a new organization is timeless. I did discover some nuggets in the Fitting in and Getting on checklist that I would do well to heed:

'To fit in and get on effectively in your new role you must gain knowledge, skill, and expertise in five 'domains':

  • First, the organisational domain – the politics, power, and value premises of the organisation, its mission, leadership style, special languages, wider context and so forth.
  • Second, the work role domain – the boundaries of authority and responsibility, expectations and appropriate behaviours for the position, the systems, structures and processes that it operates with and within.
  • Third, the group processes domain – team member and co-worker interaction, group norms and values and the workgroup's culture and structure.
  • Fourth, the task domain – the tasks, duties, assignments, priorities associated with the role, how to use equipment, how to handle routine problems and so forth.
  • Fifth the industry domain – the structure, technicalities, competitors, suppliers, language, thought leaders/commentators in the field.

As well as this I asked the team I'm a part of what would be career suicide in the organization and got some great (and helpful) answers: look for infiltration points, cover all the bases and keep going round them, follow the power, learn then scale, challenge carefully, work with one-pagers and word clouds not hefty documents.

And then I took a look at the 'first 100 days' literature. It's clearly a topic of interest. I got 416,000,000 returns to the inquiry 'first 100 days in new role'. I found companies, tipsheets, videos , and books devoted to helping people successfully through their first hundred days. The book I like most and have dipped into many times is by Michael Watkins, The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Updated and Expanded. It is practical and sensible the downside is that he allows ten days less than the norm for proving your worth.

So there's no shortage of advice and support which is good – if only to show that the challenge is common and recognized. For me it's a bit more pointed – I've studied the process, and joined several organizations but what I've found is that the theory can only go so far. In the end it's down to me and the interactions I have with new colleagues that will make or break my success in designing the job I've been employed to do. I'm 15 days in so far.

What one tip would you give to someone starting a new role? Let me know.