Five months ago I started a new job, working in an industry sector that is new to me.
It struck me this week that the first five or six months in a new job takes up a lot of energy. Mostly mental and emotional energy. It’s been really interesting, and I feel I’m getting there, in terms of doing what I set out to do. However, I think that it is important to acknowledge that at times the first months can be draining.
There is a lot written about adjusting to a new job, e.g. all that ‘first 100 days’ type literature. Some of the most useful research I’ve come across is by two academics, Helena Cooper-Thomas and Neil Anderson. Since one of the projects on my list is to deliver a new onboarding process for my company, I may as well kill two birds with one stone and reflect on my own experiences and kickstart my thinking process.
One size is not enough
Cooper-Thomas and Anderson have recently focussed on how experienced professional employees adjust to new jobs. I’ve found that often our efforts in terms of induction and onboarding within organisations tends to be fairly one size fits all. CT & A (I can’t keep typing out their full names), found that graduate new entrants and other less experienced employees benefit far more from structured approaches. However, experienced newcomers tend to rely more on their own methods of adjusting. Thus, CT & A write:
“HR induction and onboarding processes may be better off encouraging newcomers to use their own adjustment strategies that can be adapted according to the role and context.”
All mouth no ears?
I totally agree. And I also think that in many organisations, and mine is no exception, our induction processes tend to be very one way, and rather transactional. For example, doing a lot of telling and not much listening. This misses a trick, as there is also so much to be learned from the fresh perspective that a newcomer brings.
And also, by focussing on task-y stuff like learning about the role and the company, we totally miss the incredibly important aspect of ‘socialisation’. In other words, we humans are social animals, and when we start a new job we are transplanted from our old familiar social group, into a totally new group of people. Sometimes there is almost a grieving process, as we miss those old colleagues. It takes time to establish new relationships and feel a part of the new group.
How do you know when you’ve adjusted?
CT & A wrote that there are five indicators of a successful transition to a new job:
Social cohesion: As I’ve stated above, this is when the newcomer fits in, socially. Sharing values, norms of behaving, feeling a part of the team.
Role Performance: This is when the newcomer is succeeding in the job. Of course the primary aim of any onboarding programme is to help the new start to perform at an acceptable level as soon as possible. I once headed up L&D for a shoe retailer, and designed an induction programme for which one outcome was that new starters sold £17.40 per hour more shoes than people who hadn’t done the programme. Result!
Extra-role performance: This is when the person goes beyond the job spec with behaviours and contributions that helps the organisation, even in small ways. For example a few days ago we started off some work to define our company values. Several new entrants to our company volunteered to help with this work (along with many older hands).
Internal stability: This is when the newcomer feels settled and intends to stay. As opposed to feel unhappy or deciding to leave. I think it is important to acknowledge that almost every new starter has at some point in their first weeks or months, an “oh my god, what have I done?!’ moment. If not several!
External representation: When the newcomer is positive about his/her company to others outside the company. Ideally, a newcomer will want to feel proud belonging to his/her new organisation and will therefore talk about it positively to others. I’ve noticed that there is that tipping point when I stop saying ‘you’ and start saying ‘we’. I try to force myself to say ‘we’ as soon as possible, but at the start it feels artificial.
In my next post I’ll write more about the newcomer strategies that CT & A identified. If you’ve started a new role recently, how have you found it and what methods have you used to make the adjustment?
Finally, I’d better try do the right thing and give some references. Dull as that is.
Cooper-Thomas, H., Anderson, N., & Cash, M. (2012). Investigating organizational socialization: a fresh look at newcomer adjustment strategies. Personnel Review, Vol 41, Issue 1, p41-55
Cooper-Thomas, H., & Anderson, N. (2002). Newcomer adjustment: The relationship between organisational socialisation tactics, information acquisition and attitudes. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. Vol. 75 Issue 4, p423-437
Cooper-Thomas, H., & Anderson, N. (2006). Organizational socialisation. A new theoretical model and recommendations for future research and HRM practices in organisations. Journal of Managerial Psychology. Vol 21, Issue 5, p492-516