Recently, someone I placed in a new position asked me to write a blog about how to start a new job and be successful. Through my years of recruiting, I’ve seen some interesting scenarios. It made me think about matches that worked and others that were less successful. A position description or mission statement can describe technical skills or organizational capabilities. The cultural fit isn’t often described, but I’d say it’s just as crucial as any skill set.
I believe, greater consideration needs to be given to the “hidden codes” that have developed within a corporate culture and how they align with the personal style of a professional. Basically, success in a new role isn’t always determined by your performance in the first 6-12 months. Your orientation period is important, but your success is determined during the selection process when all parties involved are honest and diligent about the fit. Here are some scenarios that help both companies and professionals discuss the components that need to be considered when identifying the best match.
Interpreting the Hidden Messages
Guided or Self-Directed Tasks
“We prefer people who follow directions well, and can deliver exactly what we requested within budget, with high quality results and on time.”
“Our best performers point out another or better way to accomplish a task or even question the direction of an assignment.”
These two goals are not mutually exclusive but they describe different kinds of thinkers and people with different styles. Typically, the person in the first scenario will do better with a firm that prefers task oriented professionals who embrace an organizational system. The second style is someone who thrives in an environment where there’s more ambiguity and how the goal is obtained is left to the creativity of the individual.
Open-ended or Specific Functions
“In our organization a professional must promote their talents and meet people to learn their areas of expertise and get on projects. It’s a proactive process and with guidance anyone can be successful here.”
“When we hire someone on the statistical team, they are based here with us. Various parts of the company come to us with their statistical problems and we solve them. There’s lots of variety and we don’t have to actively seek projects.”
In these scenarios a professional’s style will play a huge role. The first description requires a proactive person who is participatory in building relationships within their firm. They need to earn respect and lobby to be on projects. To someone who enjoys determining their trajectory, this is really appealing. To others, this is daunting and exhausting.
In the second scenario, a strong professional will have lots of work coming to them. There will be many different kinds of projects that will keep them learning and busy. Again, they have to earn respect, but it’s a different kind of responsibility. The role is clearly defined and more specific. There is less ability to select projects of personal interest, but no lobbying required.
Structured or Unstructured Management Styles
“I like to give a project and a deadline and let my staff decide on the approach. I like to have updates on status and am willing to answer questions when needed. Delivery of a solid piece of work on time and in budget will increase my level of trust. I am willing to give greater and greater amounts of responsibility to a subordinate based on the outcomes of a project.”
“When we have a task from a client, I like to break it down and delegate specific pieces to my talented team members. I hold regular status meetings with each person on the project. My preference is for them to leverage our traditional approaches, I find it produces a consistent level of high quality deliverables.”
Someone might be totally lost in the first organization but thrive in the second one where there are specific directions on each task. Another person might find the room to be creative and run a project anyway they think is appropriate incredibly exciting. That same person could find a strong structured manager suffocating.
Value of Due Diligence
These are just some examples of different aspects of corporate culture that either attract or repel different talent. The management of an organization are the professionals that embrace the culture and have succeeded within the firm. During the hiring process, it’s really important to acknowledge that we can’t just look for skills and mission alignment we have to be proactive and dig deeper to see the hidden code. Both parties must be involved in the decision.
When we select the right people to hire or we select the right company to join, it’s incredible. We will see greater longevity, higher productivity, more loyalty, increased career progression, and improved corporate success. If it’s a mismatch, it can feel uncomfortable like a handsome pair of shoes that just don’t ever break in right, and this can be downright uncomfortable. Stress or anxiety increase, work satisfaction decreases, often there’s a loss of confidence, miscommunication about tasks and objectives can result. This negatively impacts both the professional and the company.
Thoughtful Tips to Consider First 6-12 Months
Learn the rules of your new organization, and what’s expected. Are there core set of hours? Do they accept telecommuting or prefer you in the office? How do they look at leave, sick or personal? Ideally you have learned most of this during the interview process, because this will impact the success of the match.
Too often I have seen a failed match because expectations were different, not fully discussed, or misunderstood during the interview process or upon hire.
Figure out the best modes of communication with the various people you come into contact with in the new position. We have three generations of people in the workplace right now, something very unusual. Baby Boomers may prefer a face to face meeting, or phone call. Millennials are probably better on email or text. When you have to interact with several generations, the onus falls on you to figure out how to get the same message across to the various audiences.
If you aren’t clear on how it all works or what to do, ask your supervisor for support or guidance.
Management is personal, but the responsibility of a good leader is to get everyone on their team to the same objective. Just like communication, directions and work style vary among professionals. Some is influenced by generation, but much is genetic and pre-determined by learning style. If you are managing someone who’s not performing well, think about how you are directing them or communicating with them. Are they understanding the directions? Can you motivate them in different ways? Is there too much of a style mismatch or can you tweak instructions to get better results?
By selecting a professional to hire and investing in their success, it’s important to be objective and problem solving oriented when we hit a bump.
Dress can be a point of contention. One of my clients said a fresh college graduate came to work with no shoes on because the dress code was “business casual”. Granted it was California, but not acceptable. Again, the multi-generations make this harder to gauge. A good rule of thumb on the interview or when you get hired is to always dress better than everyone, a suit, or something close to it is important. Even if the organization says they are business casual, stray on the side of more formal for the interview or when you first start.
Look at the senior leader and their senior management team and emulate them. Now, I know some CEOs might be in torn jeans and Converse, but you aren’t the “top dog”, so look at the next layer. If you hope to be promoted or have a seat at the leadership table, you make your first impressions based on how you are perceived. Then you build respect based on your output. It’d be a lie if I didn’t say it mattered how you present your physical self. Take that deterrent out of the equation by making it neutral.
There’s a time and place to make a style statement. It’s hard to change that first impression.
Some random other thoughts:
- Be aware of hours worked and deliverable deadlines, does this work with your style and can you meet the expectations?
- Ask for feedback, and review people with clear information, opening communication lines and sharing honest constructive feedback from the get go can set things up for success.
- Remember how the lines of authority work, you are not in charge when you start a new job so be respectful and earn respect, it does go both ways.
- Don’t make best friends, learn the lay of the land before befriending people. Work is not for finding bosom buddies to share your social life with or to hit happy hour. Mixing the two can be dangerous, that includes use of social media.
- Whatever task you do, do it to the best of your ability. My father said, “if it’s sharpening pencils, or keeping the conference room clean, do it”.
Learn what you can. Contribute the most possible to a project. Find balance in your work-life by setting clear acceptable boundaries. We won’t always make the perfect hire or find the perfect job, but if you do your homework and are patient with a bit of introspection thrown in-we can all make better choices that results in greater success stories.