A friend of mine started a new job recently. It has been tough transition for him. He went from being the resident Yoda to a Luke Skywalker. Having to build new relationships, earn your credibility all over again, and remembering how to get to your new cube is a lot handle…even for a Jedi Master.
So he invited me to dinner to pick my brain. Never missing a chance for a free meal, I gladly accepted. As a contract recruiter I have the responsibility to drive the hiring process, but no real authority. So it is vital that I am able to build relationships that matter as quickly as possible.
With a cocky grin, I lean across the table and in my best Han Solo, “Look, kid. When you’re new…”
<Queue a stirring John Williams score and a text crawl coming from the bottom of the screen in a bold Times Roman font>
First you need to ask yourself who are the people at the company that you need to build relationships with. And that doesn’t mean you start by memorizing the org chart. Okay, sure. You should know who the formal leaders are, but more importantly you also need to know who the informal leaders are as well. Perhaps it is the admin to the CEO? Or someone who has been at the company since its inception? Maybe even the front desk person. The point is you need to take the time to figure out whose opinions can impact your world.
And how on earth do you do that? Step one is to listen. Yep. Just be quiet and listen. How do they interact with others? How do others interact with them? You are trying to get a sense of their communication style. By listening you can understand how best to communicate with them. How best to make a real connection.
You should also observe them (and not in a creepy Emperor Palpatine way). What attitudes do they have on a Monday at 8 AM? How about on a Friday at 5 PM? In short, pay attention to their personalities. The goal here is to find common ground with the people you have identified. If you have listened and observed well, you should be able to use the data you gathered to make a good foundation for a work relationship.
Next you need to remember to ask questions in your new environment. The simple fact is that you are not back to being a Jedi Master yet. There will be things that you just plain don’t know. And that’s okay. But more importantly you need to be okay with it. Being an expert at your last place, doesn’t mean you are at your new one.
Now that is not to say that you should forget what you know. However think about how many times you’ve been around a new employee who utters, “When I was at my last place, we did it this way.” At which point, the concept of using the dark side of the Force doesn’t really seem all that bad (be honest!).
The reason behind asking questions before contributing what may very well be a great idea is simple. It may have already been tried before. So if you absolutely must share that idea, you should frame it as a question or even a series of questions. For example:
“Have you all tried to do it this way? Did it work? If not, why not?”
Asking questions also demonstrates willingness and an ability to learn. Your fellow co-workers will appreciate it. In their own self-interest, they will want to see if you can carry your own weight. After all if you can do your job, then they won’t have to do theirs AND yours. By showing them that you can hold up your end, it starts to build the foundation of credibility.
Listening to people and asking questions that have a purpose are outweighed by the most important factor when you’re the new kid on the job.
Above all else, you must share something of yourself. And this is where most people struggle. How do you balance between professional and personal? The basis of a meaningful relationship, even one at work, is to share something about yourself that gives people insight about you.
If you think about it, you’ve been the pursuer to this point. Through active listening and observing, you’ve gained insights in to the people that most impact your work. By asking smart questions, you’ve educated yourself about the culture and the history of the company. In addition you’ve also planted the seed that you’re going to be a good addition to the team.
However they still don’t know YOU.
As uncomfortable as this may be, you need to let them in. Let them see your nerdy side. Share with them something you’re passionate about. Now mind you work is not a place for you to babble like Jar Jar Binks.
You need to experiment and find the right balance. What and how much to share will take practice. But once you get the knack of building a meaningful work relationship it can yield benefits in more than just productivity.
Do you really want to go to a job where everyone is like a droid (and not cool ones like C3PO, but the weird ones that the Jawa’s were selling?). Work today is about the relationships you make with the people you work with. Strong relationships that are grounded in sincerity are the backbone of any network.
The final thing as a new employee to remember is that this takes time. There is no short cut to becoming a Jedi Master with your new employer. It takes determination. It takes practice. You need to be able to identify those key folks that will help you ease your way in to the company and the culture. And then you need to make a connection with them. Be open. Be honest. And also ask questions.
<My friend leans across the table and pats me on the arm, breaks me from my reverie (text scroll stops)>
“Okay so I think I got it. Listen. Ask Questions. Be Sincere. And understand that it will take Time. Is there anything else?”
“Yeah,” I grin, “always remember to let the Wookie win!”