Just Hired 1400

I was recently listening to some investment bankers discuss how America’s economic recovery compared to the rest of the world through the last Great Recession.  Although they cited several reasons for America arguably doing better than the rest of the world when it came to a quicker recovery, there was one that jumped out to me, specifically it was how Americans have a more flexible workforce compared to Europe and other parts of the world. When we say flexible what they were really meaning is that it’s easier for American employers to bring on and let go of people at will.

We can argue over the societal benefits and negatives of our greater workforce elasticity all day long. But if you’re an American worker in both the professional and labor class,this is a fact of life.  The negative side of this is most professionals I know are in constant fear of losing their job. The positive is that there is a broader market for them to quickly come on board with a new company hopefully at a level commensurate to the one they were at previously. This trend in the American Workforce has been growing for several decades and has resulted in the average tenure on the job going from decades to just a few short years, with a future trend looking to be measured in months for the next generation. The net result of all this is that many professionals today and more in the future we’ll have many more experiences of coming into a new organization and/or a new job.

Starting the new job.

Starting the new job can be an easy thing, a tremendously difficult thing, and it can fall anywhere in between. By default this means that on-boarding to a new work situation is now a skill unto itself, a skill that will be used more and more as we progress into our modern more accelerated economy. We now must become as good at starting the job as we are at doing our jobs.  

Sometimes we get lucky.  This is when it’s easy.  Our job is clearly defined, there is more than enough work to do, and we are trained in how to do that work.   You are given the specific task, and you go do that task.  The resources are available to do it and the connections needed are in place.   It’s especially helpful when the industry or company has all the standard resources available because it’s more assembly line in its structure with minimal organizational oddities.   The boss knows exactly how much time they want to spend with you, and exactly what connections to make for you at exactly the ideal time of your on-boarding.  As an example, you could be brought on as a project manager for building a big solar farm at a company that has a long history of building them.   It may be a big and complex job but it’s also fairly routine, at least for Big Solar Farm Builder Inc.  The boss knows to spend two weeks having daily meetings with you as that’s the ideal amount of time to run you through the weekly cycle that touches on every part of the build and interfaces with most of the connected teams.  After that they know you’ll be 95% self sufficient`.   It’s the same for pretty much any other professional job where you are an expert in an area in a well run organization.  You come on board and are given support resource A, B, and C to do task X. Consequently, you get up to speed with  task X quickly!  

That’s when things are good.  But unfortunately, thorough my experience, it doesn’t usually happen that way.

Why not?  There are tons of reasons.  The first is that typically the boss is usually over worked.  If your in a for profit organization, they only bring people on when things are so tough they can’t do it without the new person.  

Also, directors, team leads, and bosses are usually unequiped to put together a good onboarding process.  They are usually individual contributors themselves with their own speciality that also includes some form of oversight of a team.  It’s rare that the director of product development has the expertise to put together a cohesive onboarding process.  Even if they did have that ability, or had a template provided by HR, it doesn’t mean they have the bandwidth to put in the time to get you up to speed.  This is why in most organizations it’s ‘trial by fire’ and you figure it out as you stumble along.   To add to the challenge, anyone who’s been onboarded this way doesn’t want to bother the overworked and overstressed new boss if they don’t have to.  They are worried that the new boss will think less of them or they will be annoying the new boss.  It results in a continuous cycle of increased stress and slow proficiency growth at the new job.  

A formal on-boarding / training program doesn’t have to directly interface with the boss.  These exist in larger organizations.  There will be some number of days of  greater organizational training, some days will be dedicated to departmental training, and some to task training all with formal templates, manuals and proficiency checks.  In a few instances they are pretty good.   If there is no training, or poor training in organizations which would typically have extensive training, I would attribute this to the continuing growth of purple squirrel hyper specialization jobs.  It’s hard to have a comprehensive training program when every single job left is tremendously unique and broad in its scope.  In the end this lack of training becomes a new barrier when coming on board.  

There is another time when starting out in a new position is a challenge, possibly the biggest challenge.  It’s one thing when there is no time for the boss to work with the new employee or no training, but it’s uniquely challenging when the position is new .  This happens when organizations are doing something they haven’t done before, or are growing and need to add a role to their own unique process.  There is usually some vague notion that the new person will handle X, what ever X is, but in these situations nobody really  knows what they should really be doing.  This can lead to a bunch of downtime where the new hire has to look busy but has no work to do.  I’ve seen this several times in my career.   It can be one of the most frustrating things to come home everyday and say something like “I have no idea what i’m supposed to be doing!”.   Obviously the person in this new role feels like the organization may realize the hire was a mistake and their job is in Jeopardy even before it started.  

Rules for survival

Companies and organizations are like families in that there is always a measure of dysfunction that’s baked in. With companies the dysfunction is usually structural and it exists because of profitability.  Just think about the huge telecoms.  Obviously it’s better if the service group for any local community is a long term member of that community.  Jane at the service desk will know that the cable out on the state road has always been a bit wonky when it rains.  That’s why she gets calls from that side of the town with people complaining about slow internet and buzzing on the voice service after a storm.  She’ll also know exactly what tech to send to fix the problem quickly.  Yet it’s more profitable to centralize service to a national call center which won’t have any idea what’s going on in the local areas.  The call center makes the customer spend an hour on the phone testing their computer several different ways before they send the tech and they may even send the wrong tech.  The problem is obvious, but the solution won’t be enacted even if the flaw in structure is pointed out by a new hire.  This leads to the first rule.  Never ever point out the obvious flaws, even if they are so clearly screamingly obvious.  Why does the new software application take 15 clicks to do something that every other software does in one click?  Why are we open from 9-4 but serve people who need us open until 6?  Eventually you can point this stuff out, but you should find out the rationale for the current structure beforehand.  I distinctly remember an experience when new to an organization, where I pointed out an obvious and massive mismatch in newly acquired software to the needs of the users.  In doing so verbally I caused a great deal of problems for everyone in the room who had worked hard in putting together a delicate and politically sensitive agreement to get any software in the first place.

Get to know everyone as quickly as possible.  Turn this into a science.  Keep notes or a spreadsheet, look up LinkedIn’s.  Your knowledge base should include both personal information they shared as well as professional info and personality notes.  At the beginning I like to include photos I’ve downloaded, and I keep my notes in a central area, like a contact database.  The biggest thing is to ask questions about what interests people.   If there are regular offices, then it’s pretty easy because people will tell you about what’s important to them by what they have on their shelves, desk, and walls.  Share things with these people they may find valuable, for example, if you have someone into fishing and you see an article on a big fish caught in a lake close to their place, share it.  If someone is into a very specific sports team, and you see some sort of oddball affinity item with the team logo, pick it up and give it to them.  These are skills I learned when I was doing sales, but they work just as well in a new organization.  At their core they are showing consideration for the interests of others and it also helps build relationships.  One very important point about ‘everyone’ is that list can include extra-organizational contacts.  If you know someone in your role at a partner organization or maybe an industry trade group, then you want to build those contacts as quickly as possible.  They can become especially invaluable if your in a new role to your organization.  That way you can go to your boss and say “My role in partner organization is responsible for doing X, do you want me to do that?” If X isn’t being done, and your boss is ok with X, then you are good with some activities where you may not have been given any in a new role.  

Approach everything as in “is this how it happens here?” vs. “hey it’s your role to do this job!”.  Best practices in any industry or organizational effort are generally well known.  It’s typically obvious things like a pricing group that doesn’t do the pricing in some areas.  Clearly anyone’s first reaction when a pricing task comes to their desk would be to ask the group responsible for said task to do it.  The problem is that when you are new, you don’t know the history.  Putting pricing on your desk could be an honest  screw up, it could be the result of a personality thing like the boss wants you to better understand their pricing methodology, or some sort of historical compromise that came out of a huge conflict.  Using the pricing example, it may not happen in your area because of the loss of a big account by the pricing group not paying attention to the nuances of pricing in really specific market segments.  There is a high probability of the organizational equivalent of poking a hornet’s nest with a stick.  This is the kind of thing that every new person wants to avoid, assuming they weren’t brought on for that specific task, which happens often.  

Make your own training manual / list.  Keep a record of everything you have learned when you were still at the early part of the knowledge cycle.  This can have a couple of benefits.  The first is the organization of information may help you see patterns you wouldn’t otherwise and focus in on the areas where you may have needs.  It’s also something you can pass down to the next person.  If your lucky enough to get promoted and that person works for you, then your on-boarding template will be mostly completed for you.  

Going back to the dysfunctional family analogy, on-boarding is a bit like marrying into a family.  You have to get to know them and they have to get to know you, and it’s better if you do that with as little friction as possible.  It just makes life easier for all parties.  Don’t worry if you screw things up too bad.  The goal of getting married is to stay married forever.  The goal of most new jobs in our modern world isn’t to keep them forever, it’s to keep them as long as it’s mutually beneficial which in our current and future economy is measured in just a few years or less.  That means you’ll get to start out at some new company or role and you can do it all over again, and the next time you’ll be able to extend the honeymoon period, maybe even for as long as you remain married to the company.    

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Posted by Mike Peluso

Mike Peluso writes about the collision between between the business / professional world and life. He also writes about the journey involved with the Peluso Presents efforts including the Blog, Books, and Podcast so that others may benefit from his efforts. From Mike: I spend hundreds of hours working on these articles every year with no compensation other than support I get through donations. You can support with a tip and by Subscribing to the Podcast (and writing a review on iTunes would be really appreciated as well!) One time tips: www.paypal.me/pelusopresents https://venmo.com/pelusopresents

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