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Getting to Know Your New Organization

When The First 90 Days was first published in 2003, author and Harvard professor Michael Watkins said that “learning about the culture and politics of a new organization” was the most difficult challenge for a manager from the outside assuming an executive position.

When The First 90 Days was first published in 2003, author and Harvard professor Michael Watkins said that “learning about the culture and politics of a new organization” was the most difficult challenge for a manager from the outside assuming an executive position. As Watkins told Martha Lagace, “It’s so easy to fall into pitfalls in these areas and really damage your credibility.” Since that time, the book has become a best seller and a classic that many rely on for advice on navigating transitions.The First 90 Days was first published in 2003, author and Harvard professor Michael Watkins said that “learning about the culture and politics of a new organization” was the most difficult challenge for a manager from the outside assuming an executive position. As Watkins told Martha Lagace, “It’s so easy to fall into pitfalls in these areas and really damage your credibility.” Since that time, the book has become a best‑seller and a classic that many rely on for advice on navigating transitions.

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Since landing a new job in a tight economy  is challenging enough, you want to get off to the right start. Addressing the issue of getting to know the culture is a good starting point, and perhaps it is one that many executives overlook because they are so absorbed with learning the job that they may inadvertently overlook the people aspect. After all, their new boss is not evaluating the newcomer on how many friends he has gained, he is evaluating him on results.

So how would you go about learning the culture? Perhaps we can take a page from what cultural anthropologists do: observe and reflect. Here are some suggestions.

Keep your eyes open. Watch how people interact with each other. Are they open and sharing, or are they closed and hoarding? The first is a sign that people are comfortable; the second is a sign that something is drastically wrong.

Ask questions. If you do not know something, ask. It is a sign of intelligence to ask questions, and as many have remarked, when you are beginning a new job, there is no such thing as a dumb question. The converse may be true; not asking questions demonstrates ignorance, and maybe some arrogance.

Determine consequences.  What happens when people do things right? Are they recognized or ignored? And if they screw-up, how are they treated? Like pariahs or as someone who needs a helping hand?  It is important to figure these things out if you expect to make your way.

Change is always difficult, but it is especially difficult when you seem to be the only one changing. Working in a new culture thrusts you into a hyper learning mode. Everything is new and different and you are constantly adapting to the here and now.

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One piece of advice for this transition, and something that Watkins notes in The First Ninety Days. Do not forget what got you here. Assuming that your new job is an increase in responsibility, you have earned it by demonstrating competency and gaining results in your previous positions. Therefore, you are good at what you do; you may adopt new processes but your core skills of judgment, decision-making and evaluation are sound.

And if perchance this job is a demotion of sort, then recall what mistakes you made. Now you have the chance to do things right and wipe the slate clean. In both instances you need to keep your eyes and ears open. [Keeping a copy of The First Ninety Days handy would not be a bad idea either.]

 

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2010 Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world’s top 25 leadership experts. John’s newest book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up (Amacom 2009). Readers are welcome to visit John’s website, www.johnbaldoni.com