In my last post I wrote about starting a new job. In this post I’m going to try to summarise the findings of Helena Cooper-Thomas and Neil Anderson’s recent research on the strategies that experienced professional employees use when starting a new job.
Helena Cooper-Thomas and Neil Anderson conducted a series of interviews with 86 newcomers in a London based professional services company. They found that the newcomers used a range of strategies to help themselves to adjust to their new roles. Below is a quick and dirty summary. For each of the strategies I have thought about the design of an onboarding programme, and I’ve tried to consider ways in which I can encourage new starters to use these methods.
This tactic involved the newcomer deliberately trying to do tasks or project that use skills that they have previously used. Or doing projects that are relevant to their previous experience.
Implications. I think that this strategy is fairly obvious. It is simply a case of pointing it out to newcomers and also to encourage line managers to think about structuring projects or work so that the newcomer begins with things that are more familiar.
Here, newcomers are seeking to explain or demonstrate their abilities and experience. This gains them credibility.
Implications. I often encourage people to look for quick wins; things they can do early on that demonstrate effectiveness. I also think that it is useful to give newcomers an opportunity to state their background, skills and experience. As I wrote in my previous post, existing employees are not always good at listening to the new starter, as they are so busy telling them all about the company they’ve joined. So we can give opportunities to hear from the newcomer by asking them to give a presentation/write an intranet article/blog or similar, giving some background about themselves and their skills and experience. This is something that in hindsight I should have done more of when I started my most recent new job, as it was the first ever such role within the company.
Before going on, as an aside, I really hate the term ‘probationary period’. It seems so patronising and one way. What else could we call it? In reality, both parties are adjusting and making up their minds. Not just the hiring organisation.
Giving, and exchanging
I’m going to contradict myself here. I said that companies can be guilty of not listening, but Cooper-Thomas and Anderson (CT & A for short), found that newcomers establish credibility and influence by giving information, or sharing external contacts or other resources. Rob Jones, in his blog, gave some great advice about adapting to a new industry, in which he says ‘share, but don’t’ drone‘.
Implications. I think it is simply a case of making newcomers aware that this is a tactic that they can deliberately use in order to build credibility. Many people do it naturally, but not all will be aware of it. And as Rob wrote, it’s a question of balance.
Newcomers seek out information to help them understand more about the company and their role, and about their colleagues. It can be a deliberate strategy of learning before forming opinions and formulating plans. For example, I needed to do a lot of this before I could come up with a L&D strategy. It’s no good blasting in on day one with a pre-set agenda. Information comes from all sorts of places: intranets, organisational documents such as business plans, asking questions of a range of people, being present at meetings and events, and so on.
Implications. We need to ensure that newcomers have access to the resources that they need. And to help them formulate their questions and lines of enquiry before we bombard them with a busy round of meeting their stakeholders, customers, and other departments. Showing the newcomer how to do a stakeholder map can also be useful. And simply encouraging people to be patient is important – again, Rob Jones explained how this worked for him in his new role.
Teaming, befriending, and talking
These are all socialisation strategies. Teaming involves people becoming part of a team as soon as they can. And befriending is self explanatory – it’s about saying hello, being friendly, establishing relationships – but more widely than within the confines of one’s own team. Talking – it is simply about deliberately having lots of informal conversations with people.
Implications. These are behaviours that many people do naturally, but I think would help to point out to newcomers that establishing relationships is a big part of them making a successful transition. The more introvert and/or task-focussed newcomers may benefit from realising that socialisation will actually help them to achieve their tasks, in the long run. It is also helpful as part of the onboarding programme, to make sure that there are social events, to help the newcomer to establish relationships. For example, going out for a team lunch. It’s a simple thing to do, but as one of my colleagues rightly pointed out recently, we are much better at organising team lunches when someone is leaving, than when someone joins. We can do more to encourage teams to think about how they will welcome in the newcomer.
Negotiating is where the newcomer discusses the expectations for his role with others – e.g. his line manager, but potentially also other stakeholders. For example, as I’ve said, my current role was a new one. So initially I needed to discuss the range of my role and to understand others’ expectations of it.
Implications. I think that the importance of negotiating as a tactic depends on the clarity of the person’s role. Although it can often be the case that a person is recruited as what seems like a normal like-for-like replacement, but the newcomer brings with them a whole new set of expectations about what she can deliver in that role. E.g. I can think of previous jobs I’ve done where I replaced someone whose approach was completely and utterly different from my own – but of course, at first, managers expected me to be exactly the same type of L&D person. Thus negotiating is important. I think that again, it would simply be useful to highlight to the newcomer that this is a strategy that they may need to use, and to coach them if needed as to how to go about it.
That’s a long post. If you got to the end, well done. Any points you disagree with? Any thoughts on practical ways to help experienced newcomers make the best possible adjustment to their new company and role? Are there any adjustment strategies that you’ve used in a new role, or seen used?