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Learn the Culture of a New Employer January 11, 2007

Posted by Coolguy in IT Career.
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Switching jobs can be exciting, but new hires must be prepared to learn the unwritten rules of a new corporate culture. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, learning a workplace’s customs can indeed be a major challenge, and regardless of prior work experience, people often struggle to discern protocols, etiquette and culture when they change employers.
“It’s like going to a different country,” said Michael Kanazawa, chief executive of Dissero Partners, an Oakland, Calif., management consulting firm. “There are cultural norms of behavior that go way beyond what anybody would have the capability to write in a job description.”
One big issue is tolerance for questioning the boss, the article pointed. Some companies encourage it, believing that confrontation can generate sharp, creative thinking; others consider disagreement disrespectful. Even mundane issues, such as how to lean on administrative support, can present hazards.
Ben Dattner, a principal with Dattner Consulting, an organizational-effectiveness consulting firm, cautions that there can be lasting consequences to breaking unwritten rules. For example, co-workers may label the newcomer as an outsider who doesn’t fit into corporate culture and is “not meant to be taken seriously,” he said.
Career experts urge newcomers to take advantage of their “grace period” by asking lots of questions in their first months on the job. It may feel embarrassing, but it’s worse to remain ignorant a year later, according to the article.
Another good strategy is to watch others and follow their lead. Newcomers should also try to enlist a friend or office assistant from whom they can seek guidance. That’s what Lyria Charles did after discovering many unwritten rules at her new employer, a technology company in Virginia.
Her new post was a vice president job, directly supervising about 12 project managers. During her first week, she asked her assistant to set-up meet-and-greets with staffers. She was surprised to see that her assistant arranged the meetings at the subordinates’ cubicles – not Charles’ office. “That’s how it’s done,” Charles recalls her assistant telling her; she was grateful for the guidance. “If I had done the reverse and insisted they come to my office, that would have set a tone of, “You don’t really understand how things work here and you’re not a team player.’”
Charles learned other mores through careful observation, or trial and error. For example, she noticed that co-workers preferred to send instant messages to colleagues before calling them. She also learned she was supposed to check email over the weekend after missing an email about a project task.
Kevin Hall, a mortgage banker, said he learned cultural nuances partly by observing others. About three months into a new job, while finding himself bogged down making his own travel arrangements, he noticed some higher-up executives asking the receptionists if they could help with travel booking. So he approached some of the administrative staffers to ask for help too. “You feel your way as you go,” he told the newspaper. “I’m still learning new things, but the learning curve has slowed down.”
Here from Forbes.com are some additional tips for employees to consider during the first 90 days at a new job:
Do your homework. Learn all you can about your new employer and its industry through careful research. This way you’ll be knowledgeable in your initial assignments and in your daily contact with colleagues.
Know your strengths. By focusing on what you’re good at, you can use your strengths to quickly make an impact in your new position.
Say it right. It’s important to know what to say and how to say it. If you’re not a good speaker, practice or get a coach. With good speaking skills, you can seek out opportunities where you can gain visibility.
Get in shape. Because the early days of any new job can be a grind, it’s important to be physically prepared. Eat well, sleep well, exercise, do anything you can to keep your energy level up.
Get a mentor. Besides forming early relationships with a few knowledgeable co-workers who can help bring you up to speed, it’s vital to have an ongoing dialogue with somebody who knows the company very well and can help you navigate the organization.
Understand how things work. Find out about office policies, how to weave your way through politics that predate you, and how most communications occur in the company. Most importantly, though, find out how the company operates before you start trying to change things