A key theme in rocking your new job is investing adequate time and effort into acquiring the critical tribal knowledge that lies at the heart of your new organization; in other words, the “how” of getting things done. This post shares seven sources of insight you can use to quickly learn the ropes of the new culture. Five of the sources involve people you can learn from; two are practices to put into play. As a bonus, I’m also sharing fifteen powerful questions to use when you meet with your sources of insight. Use these questions to structure your early conversations and get up to speed in record time.
Influencers are the people in the organization who have sway. They know how to get things done, and they’ve earned the trust of key players on the team. Observe influencers to learn how the pros operate. You don’t have to adopt everything influencers do. Instead, view what you observe as a palette of proven strategies you can choose from. Try things on; if something doesn’t feel right, let it go.
- Your Boss’s Stakeholders
Find out early who your boss’s stakeholders are. Once you have this information, make sure you clarify whether your boss has any preferences or expectations for whether, when, and how you communicate with this population.
- Your Own Stakeholders
Who will care about the work you are going to do and who will be touched by it? These are your stakeholders.
- A Formal Mentor
Ask your boss to connect you with someone who can show you the ropes. Some people are uncomfortable asking for a mentor, thinking it makes them look inept. Actually, most managers will tell you that asking for a mentor indicates you take your career seriously and are taking a proactive role in accelerating your ramp-up time.
- Informal Mentors
Whether or not you identify a formal mentor, you can learn a lot from connecting with others on an informal basis. Letting people know you value their experience, listening to their war stories, and asking them how they’ve handled challenging situations in the past can be an additional source of information that will help you understand your new employer.
- Communication Patterns
Watch for and learn how people communicate across the business. Notice if and how communication patterns shift when an interaction is within a level versus across levels. Pay attention not only to what is said but also to what is what is not said. Notice what is communicated via email, via informal meeting, and via large or formal meeting. Attend meetings with an eye on the content and the meta content. Observe who gets the floor and how they got it (i.e., is it the quiet one, the loud one, the one who interrupts, the one who draws on the whiteboard?). Notice who holds the attention of the group. Notice how decisions are made.
- One-on-One Interviews
Hopefully you started to identify your list of Influencers, Stakeholders, and Mentors as you read this post. This is your brain trust for the first month or two on the job. Get one-on-one time with this group right away and use the questions below to engage them in a rich dialogue that will help you know what they know. A rookie mistake is putting off these meetings, thinking you don’t have anything substantial enough to discuss in your early days. Don’t wait! The information you’ll learn from your Influencers, Stakeholders, and Mentors is critical. In fact, this is the information that will form how you see the business situation you are walking into, the history of the organization, and your strategy and roadmap. It will also form the meat of your early dialogue with your boss.
Bonus: Fifteen Questions to Get the Most Out Of Your Influencers, Stakeholders, and Mentors
Here is a list of questions designed to elicit your “interviewees’” core intelligence on the topic at hand – your new organization. The questions are open-ended to kick off a dialogue. Each can be customized to suit your particular situation and each will likely lead to follow-on questions. With these questions in hand, you and your Influencers, Stakeholders, and Mentors will have plenty to talk about.
- What are our biggest challenges?
- Why do we have those challenges?
- What have we already tried to address those challenges?
- If you were me, what would you focus on?
- How has the organization performed in the past?
- How do people think it has performed?
- Is my function in maintenance mode? Or is it a start-up or turnaround?
- How are goals set?
- Were goals set too high or too low in the past?
- What internal measures are used? External?
- What behaviors have been encouraged or discouraged in the past?
- If performance has been good, why? Poor, why?
- What are the organization’s politics?
- What is the history of change for this organization? What efforts have been made to change and what happened? Who has been instrumental in shaping the organization and in driving change in the organization?
- Is the current strategy going to take the organization where it needs to go?
In my next and last post in this series, I’ll share a word about you. I love hearing your experiences as you put some of these tips into play. Let me know what’s working for you!
The above questions were inspired by Michael Watkins’ work on learning and development.