This post is for you if your job is your first or one of your first jobs, or if you have a colleague in your team that has recently joined. Please pass this article to them. It’s not about the integration in a specific company (I don’t know this after all), it’s not about specific departments or roles. The text deals with some aspects that I have stumbled upon or struggled with over the years in the world of companies as a newcomer or that I have had to wonder about. Many surprises do not have to be surprises.
I have written this text for newcomers in my own team, but maybe it will be useful for others as well. It is the natural sequel of my recent post Onboarding newbies in the information economy.
This post is available in German, too.
These points are in no particular order. Number neither indicates sequence nor priority.
Table of contents
- Own your ramp-up and onboarding.
- Learn about your organization’s structure.
- You are a mini-business.
- Get to know the big picture.
- Learn about the products and business model of the company.
- Learn about your direct manager.
- Define your success, but not get hung up on goals.
- Establish a way of managing your action items.
- Get some.
Own your ramp-up and onboarding.
Formally, yes, your ramp-up lies in the responsibility of your direct manager. But guess who will have the problem if it does not work out? Yes, that will be you. So better own your ramp-up and onboarding yourself, and ask for other’s support.
If there is a ramp-up plan or onboarding plan of some sort in your department or for your role, meticulously use that as a guidance. Most of those have a checklist like format. If the plan comes as a bulleted list, make it into a check list format so that you can track what you have already addressed and what not.
Not all items on that onboarding plan are necessarily applicable to you specifically or your role, or your department. When in doubt talk with someone, most likely your boss or whoever she points you to.
You may think a lot of things in that onboarding plan to be an obligation to provide by the organization and its members, and you formally may even be right, but practically it is safer to assume your obligation to collect on items. It is what Stephen Covey calls “pro-active” in his bestseller The 7 habits of highly effective people.
Learn about your organization’s structure.
Read the organizational chart (or org chart), so look in whatever intranet you are using for it. You need to find out where in that organization you are located, and you need to find out where your most frequent out-of-department collaborators are located.
The company’s structure into divisions and department has a great influence on how processes are running, on how work is done and how people collaborate and behave. While every colleague’s behavior of course also is influenced by their own personality, it is greatly shaped by the organization structure and the boundaries and constraints that come with that.
Every experience with colleagues that might seem strange or new to you can be a result of you being new to the business world or this company, but even more so by the org chart’s implications.
You are a mini-business.
Yes, you got a job, usually with a named role title you were hired into, and with a monthly salary. Nevertheless, you are a mini business.
The company bought your services and pays you a „retainer“ (marketing agency speak).
This means that regardless of what you think your role is, your primary goal is to create value for the company and the company’s customers. Since you are a mini-business within the company, you own the responsibility for creating value. Not your boss, not your bosses boss, but you.
Ideally you are given tasks, responsibilities, in short: work. But if that does not happen to the extent to make your time best used, seek out for value to create. You were hired with and because of your brain, so use it. Become valuable by what you do, by what you bring to the company and its customers.
This includes sharing your experiences and knowledge appropriately. Even when fresh out of university, you have made worthwhile experiences growing up to where you are now, and this set of experiences is unique. It may be some special topic that you researched while your studies, something that has to do with your cultural background and how you got to the location you are now, or with something outside your professional subject area that can be tied or mapped to this business world. Share this experience. Not necessarily as knowledge-sharing on the company’s core business, as there may and will be colleagues that will know a lot more about that, but as your personal experience. This, by the way, is also marketing for your own business as much as it is value creation for the company.
Get to know the big picture.
Long, long ago, in medevial ages, a traveller came into town (and because this is medevial ages, it was sexist as hell and all persons in this story are men), and he saw three men at work with a large bucket each.
The traveller went to the first worker and asked him: “What are you working here?”
The first worker replied without looking: “I am mixing mortar.”
The traveller asked the second worker: “What are you working here?”
The second worker briefly looked up, then replied: “I am laying bricks for a wall.”
The traveller asked the third worker: “What are you working here?”
The third worker looked the traveller into the eyes, smiled and replied: “I am building a cathedral.”
Be the cathedral builder. By no means does this devalue the act of mixing mortar. It makes your craft even more important, because only the best mortar can ensure that the wall for the cathedral can endure centuries. It makes a huge difference to be aware and able to articulate the bigger picture of what you are doing. It makes a huge difference to yourself, and it makes a difference to whomever you are talking to.
So familiarize yourself with the context of your daily grind, what it does for the company, what it does for the customer. Ask your “foreman” a.k.a. your manager and ask your colleagues about that bigger picture.
Lift your head from the bucket once in a while, and still ensure you are mixing fantastic quality of mortar.
Learn about the products and business model of the company.
What is it that the company does? What are the names of the main products, and what do these products do, at a very coarse grain? Even when you are not directly working with these products, people from outside that you speak with will have an interest in what it is your company does and offers. Being able to provide some context adds to your professionalism.
You need not be the expert on each product item, and not even know about the sub-structure of the offerings, but at least be able to give a sentence on each main product line and main service offering.
The internet web site of the company is a good starting point for researching that, as this is what the company officially is telling prospects. Usually, this should be sufficient as a resource. With more interest, check out internal resources, like product positioning statments and business model explanations.
Next, learn about the business model of the company. How is the company making money, really? Laugh not, selling something can mean so many different things, especially in a software and service business. Do customer buy perpetual licenses of software to use forever, with maybe or maybe not additionally purchasing upgrades over time, or do customers rent the software for an annual fee? Is the software usually billed per user, per computer or per use, or something completely different?
All this may not make an immediate difference to your actual daily work, but it makes a difference in how your daily grind ties into the company’s overall value creation and turnover generation.
Learn about your direct manager.
In most organizations, there is still some sort of hierarchy. That hierarchy may be very flat, meaning that one manager has many, many direct reports, or it may be deep, so that there are many levels of managers, but all of that is still a hierarchy.
Hierarchy means that at some point the manager will have to assess the performance of their direct reports, including yours, and in many organizations this will have an influence on salary raises, interesting work and roles and jobs to be given out, in general your career, whether or not you believe to have one.
What is your manager’s standard mode of operation? What are their standard operating procedures? Or more bluntly spoken: How does your manager roll? What is important to them? What does success mean to them? How will they know that you are successful?
Especially when you are fresh out of university, it is perfectly fine to not yet be able picking up the answers implicitly, but rather ask your manager explicitly. And it is advisable also for experienced personnel to ask similar questions when entering a new company.
Remember: even with a manager from the same education background or similar subject role filled, sooner or later you will know better about the details of task at hand than your manager. You manager should be able to give guidance by the sheer experience in business in general or that subject matter in particular, but do not expect them to be an answering machine all the time.
If you are in a specialist type of role, the likelihood that you know far better about the subject matter is reasonably high. It is your duty to become able to articulate what you are doing and where you are struggling.
Define your success, but not get hung up on goals.
As a mini business within a company (see above), you need successes. But what is success even? How do you know that you have success with certain tasks, roles, aspects? “My boss says so” is only one factor. An important one, accepted, but there are others, too.
How can you assess to what extent your actions succeed, other than boss feedback or customer feedback? Remember, it is your job to create value for the company and its customers, not to receive positive feedback, although it does not hurt.
Yet measurable value creation trumps feedback almost every time. And if you find yourself in an organization where it often does not, you may want to rethink where you are.
For every goal you set yourself or you get set by your boss, you have to ask: “How will I know when I am finished with that goal, and whether I was successful on it?”
This is particularly difficult on vague goals like improving communication, but still possible. Communication in business serves a purpose to foster your value creation, so again measure the value creation. Feedback is highly subjective, so you would have to get a statistically large enough sample size of feedback-givers to assess how far your communication has improved.
Attending trainings and alike are definitely not goals, those are means to and end. Find that end: This could be the goal. You attend training to get know-how or vocational training on a certain aspect, but mastery in application of that know-how or skill is what drives value creation. Assess that instead.
Establish a way of managing your action items.
Ensure you use of some sort of productivity system, i.e. an action item or task list. You need to ensure you always are able to identify which action items you want to address, be it to capture things asked of you or action items that you figured from the given or set goals. Pretending you are able to keep it all in your mind is not helpful, the sooner you acknowledge the need to write things down the faster you will unleash your potential of productivity.
You may or may not have learnt this at university or previous jobs or in previous organizations. When unsure what to use, you may use some implementation of Getting Things Done.
Each company has its peculiarities and anomalies. The peculiarities change from organization to organization, but the fact that there are some, stays. Expect no wonders, all companies are imaginary structures made up by humans.
Exercise in your profession, and exercise hard, so that you can create magnificient value for the company and its customers.
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