Tips for Starting a New Job

This post was originally published March 31, 2014.

A week ago I left the simultaneously uncomfortable and comfortable bliss of unemployment, put on my big boy pants, and went back to work at a 9 to 5 position.  It’s a great opportunity; I’m happy to be back with a consistent income and I’ll get to use a lot of my organizational development skills while continuing to advance my own work on the side.  It also gave me a chance to reflect upon the experience of entering a new workplace.

If one counts the numerous times I’ve been a temporary employee, which one should when counting these things, I have started new jobs many times.  We all know what this is like, you get dressed up in your most appropriate and professional outfit, ready to wow your boss and make new friends that are somehow only friends for eight hours of the day.  Yet, you usually spend most of the week feeling like you’re sitting by yourself in a high school cafeteria.  The first week at work is usually awkward and sometimes embarrassing, but I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that bad!

As follow up to a post with tips on surviving unemployment. I present Levi Baer’s top four tips for starting a new job:

1. Ask Questions

Don’t just sit there like a bump on a log waiting for the next thing to be handed to you or hoping you don’t screw up!  Ask questions along the way to make sure your supervisor knows you’re actively engaged.  A “what’s next?” or “am I doing this right?” can go a long way towards establishing rappot.  Not just with your boss, but also with your coworkers (ask them questions too), who probably won’t appreciate working with a slacker. Besides, you’ll probably be less bored if you stay busy rather than sit there dodging assignments and watching the clock.  I used this concept last week when I doubled checked, “you want me to make this purchase with the company credit card, right?”.

2. Don’t Ask Questions

Try stuff and see what happens, don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  This is one of the fastest ways to learn the ins and outs of your role as well as the organizational culture.  Lots of people could do the tasks you’ve been hired to do, but it’s up to you to make yourself be the right fit.  As important as it is to ask first to make sure you’re doing tasks correctly, it’s also just as important to explore a little bit and test your boundaries.  A heads up manager will recognize that a change in the workplace, such as a new hire, will actually cause a temporary downturn in productivity as people get used to the change.  If they’re doing their job well, you shouldn’t be afraid to take some lumps while you learn yours.

3. Give Feedback

Not only should you expect to receive praise and constructive criticism from your supervisor during your first week, but you should also be prepared to give feedback yourself.  It is really important to set the tone of your communication habits by letting your superiors and colleagues know up front what works and what could be done differently.  We typically feel pressure to say “yes” to anything handed our way, especially when we’re trying to set a good impression.  One method I use is to accept new assignments, but make sure my manager knows where the new works fits into my current to do list.  For example, I’ll say “yes, I can absolutely finish those TPS reports, but unless you feel otherwise, they will have to wait until after I send this time sensitive email.”  

4. Relax

I’ll let you in on a little secret.  You don’t have to be liked by everyone the moment you walk in the door.  Be the lonely cafeteria kid for a few days; we should embrace the rare moments in life when we get to remember what it feels like to be alone (Louis CK says this better than I can).  In the grander scheme of things, it won’t last that long.  By the end of the first week you’ll be giving high fives to the cool kids.  They hired you because you’re the right person for the job and you should be satisfied with that understanding.  I said it last week and I’ll say it again now, take a deep breath, look ahead at what’s next, relax, and have fun getting to know your surroundings.

Bees, Butterflies, and Plants in Organizations

Time for that age old talk about the birds and the bees.  Oh wait!  I’ll leave that awkward moment for you and a parent, in the mean time I’m going to tell you about the bees, butterflies, and plants, in the context of organizations.  This piece will help you recognize which one you are at your workplace, and what benefit each of those brings to the situation (no, not cool wings or stingers).

I first heard about this model from a friend of mine when he returned from a conference where participants were directed to act as either bees or butterflies.  I was fascinated, but felt the framework fell a little short of covering most of the important options, so I’ve expanded it to include plants.  Without further ado, a description of each:

Bees

Bees are the pollinators of an organizations!  They are the ones that are constantly collecting information and resources from one place and bringing it to another.  You will find them spreading best practices between departments, passing on news of the organization, or even exchanging juicy stories at the water cooler.  This role is important because the bees will use both formal and informal communication channels to keep an organization internally connected and connected to the outside world.  Organizations can benefit from recognizing those with this skill and utilizing it for the company’s benefit, rather than hamper it.

Butterflies

Those who take on the butterfly role are collectors of information, but are not necessarily in the habit of spreading it throughout the organization.  They are often great listeners and note takers during meetings and although it may not seem like they are participating they are actually filling an important role.  Organizations can benefit greatly from those who collect and retain knowledge and resources.  If their knowledge is correctly recorded, it can lead to institutional knowledge that endures through turnover and change.  Unlike their bee counterparts who are also collectors, the butterflies may do a more thorough job of gathering knowledge because they are less concerned with moving on to share it.  Companies should embrace those who fill this role and create proper outlets for tapping into the butterfly’s wealth of knowledge.

Plants

Plants are the people from whom the other two types collect information, gossip, and best practices.  They may be content experts with a unique set of skills or knowledge about a field.  They may also be people who have been at an organization a long time and may have transitioned from a butterfly role to a plant role, perhaps because they felt they no longer needed to collect.  Plants play an extremely important role in organizational dynamics and organizations should allow them to take root, so to speak.  As with the butterflies, plants should be allowed to hold on to information, but engaged in ways that respect their more reserved communication style.  

As with almost every model for classifying people into types, everyone in this framework is important.  We need those who know the valuable methods and tips just as much as we need those who spread the nectar of knowledge throughout a company.  In closing, consider the questions below and how you see this framework at work at your job:

What role do you think you fill at work?

Does your organization support your role?

Does your organization support all three of the roles?

Did I miss any roles?  What would you add?

MBTI: Thinkers and Feelers During Conflict

Have you ever been so frustrated with someone that you don’t even know how to express what’s going on in your head?  I think a lot of us have experienced these types of situations that either lead to hurtful comments or unresolved confrontations.  When it comes to conflict resolution, it can often be worthwhile to find external tools or to help us frame our thoughts and our view of others.  The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator is just that, a tool for effective communication, especially during conflict. Learning about your personality type isn’t just a cool parlor trick or conversation starter.  Once you’re conversant in the terms and concepts, you can use constructive language to resolve disputes and differences, rather than suffer through frustrating arguments.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator provides four aspects of personality, each with a continuum between two different preferences.  Where we land on the continue of each preference pair can be used to describe how we communicate with others. One of the most important personality distinctions during conflict is that of Thinkers and Feelers; basically, whether we prefer logic or emotion during decision making.

Three things Thinkers and Feelers can do during conflict resolution.

Thinking - Primarily use logic based decision making

  1. Empathy - Take a moment to try and understand what others are experiencing from their point of view.  To others, “it feels right” might be more important than “it makes sense”.

  2. Give Praise - Thinking types have a tendency to point out what’s wrong rather than what’s right.  This often won’t well with Feelers, who are doing the exact opposite.  Be sure to mix in some good with the bad.

  3. People are important - Yes, T’s think that people are important, but they have a tendency to view them as a line item along with other important items.  Instead, consider that others view people as the most important factor in any conflict equation.

Feeling - Primarily use emotion based decision making

  1. Stay engaged - At times, those with a Feeling preference will avoid conflict resolution because it can be uncomfortable to address differences, however, some issues need to be resolved.  Work towards a resolution by acknowledging differences and suggesting compromises, and hopefully the other person is open to that sort of respectful communication.

  2. Use an objective viewpoint - Feelers have a tendency to make themselves the object of the criticism of others, when in fact the disagreement may stem from situational or environmental factors. Make sure it is about you before taking it personally.

  3. Analyze - It can be difficult for feelers to make critical decisions when more than one option feels right, which can be frustrating for others.  Find decision making tools that can help quantify different options, or seek input some someone you trust who has an analytical mind.

As usual when talking about personality type, the most important takeaway here is that both Thinkers and Feelers are important and provide valuable input during disagreements.  You wouldn't want a situation with purely logical decisions without considering the emotional consequences, nor would you want the opposite, a situation with only empathy and no critical analysis.  Especially in business where both profits and people are of utmost importance, it's good to recognize the benefits of each and bring together the best of both types.

Transformational Leadership

Great leaders are born not made, right?  I think someone said that at some point.  Sure, there are genetic traits we are born with, such as how gregarious a person is, and some of those traits might be more or less beneficial in leadership situation.  That's what personality assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator serve to illustrate.  However, there is also consistent research that shows that there are leadership qualities that can be learned and practiced to create highly effective leaders.  

Transformational Leadership provides a great model for examining effectively leadership that not only inspires great work from a group, but also fosters mutual respect and satisfaction between leadership and followers.  It serves as a proactive alternative to traditional management styles that are reactive and fix problems only after they occur, or even worse inactive that never fixes anything.  When employed correctly and consistently, transformational leadership heads off issues before they become problems.

There are four main aspects of transformational leadership:

Inspirational Motivation

A leader who practices inspirational motivation is one who provides an appealing vision that brings the group out of their comfort zone and into high productivity.  This is done with a sense of optimism and inclusion that makes everyone feel like they are a team, together on a path to greatness.  

As an example, the manager of a online store might display inspirational motivation by clearly describing to the team their sales goals as a company and how important each of their roles are in accomplishing that goal.  Although tangible rewards like bonuses can be helpful, the manager could also leverage intangible rewards as motivator, such as the challenge of becoming the highest selling store in their market.

Individual Consideration

Leaders who use individual consideration take on a mentor role with their group.  They use an empathetic approach to providing support to each and every person they're guiding to help provide a sense of purpose.  This also involves recognizing the contributions that each individual provides to the group, which can be done through personality assessment, strength & skills inventories, and recognizing individual aspirations.

As an example of individual consideration in the workplace, a manager would make one-on-one time with their employees a priority.  Setting and sticking to an open door policy can help employees feel like they can always find a welcome ear with their manager.  Additionally, the company can invest in tools that help the team learn about each others’ strengths and then build roles and projects that tailor to those strengths.

Idealized Influence

A leader who practices idealized influence serves as a role model for their team.  They not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk, embodying the values of the group and organization.  They typically go about their work enthusiastically and with optimism.  They would not ask anything from the group that they will not adhere to as well.  

For this example, consider a group with an informal leader; a team of architects working on a project that has a senior staff person who the others look to for advice.  If this admired team member asks the group to be 10 minutes early every day so they’re ready to go at 9:00am, they will be sure to stick to that rule.  The credibility they have built is reinforced when they stick to their word and participate in reaching group goals.

Intellectual Stimulation

Leaders can carry out intellectual stimulation by facilitating innovation and creativity for a group.  They provide opportunities for people to challenge themselves and make the most of their talents.  These leaders not only bring new ideas, but inspire others to be creative and push conventional boundaries.  

One way a manager could practice intellectual stimulation is by hosting innovation workshops, where staff from every level of the organization comes together to brainstorm and discuss new ways of approaching the internal processes of the organization as well as the external messages they send to the public.  This would foster an environment where new ideas and change is welcomed, rather than shunned, which can keep an organization healthy and a step ahead of their competitors.

Transformational leadership is a concept for anyone at any level of an organization.  Employees should always consider how their actions affect and influence those around them.  It can take practice, but imagine the difference it would make if we were all carrying out these four concepts to their fullest extent every day.  Whether we were born leaders or not, let’s make a happy and productive workplace start with us!

The Abilene Paradox: Saying 'Yes' When No One Wants To

Have you ever gone out for food with a group, fought over where you would eat, then once you're there nobody is happy with the final decision? We've probably all been in these situations and they don't make sense! Why would a group of people ever go forward with plan that no one in the group thought was a good idea? The answer: The Abilene Paradox.

This communication theory, named after a city in Texas, describes odd phenomenon as a breakdown of communication when of a group of people decides upon a course of action that many or all of the group members are actually against. But why?! It sounds nuts, yet it happens.  The answer lies hidden in the perplexing power of social pressure. The Abilene Paradox exists because everyone in a group is be too worried about being viewed as a dissenting and minority opinion in the group. More simply put, nobody wants to rock the boat.  

The follies of the group dining decision is just one of many examples of how this paradox can leave everyone unsatisfied, frustrated, or even in financial or legal trouble. Arguably the worst, and most public example in U.S. history of The Abilene Paradox wreaking havoc is considered to be the Watergate Scandal in the 1970s. Research after the event has revealed that many of the people involved were not comfortable with the cover-up, but no one objected because they wanted to be seen as a team player.  In hindsight, I’m sure some of them wish they had spoken up.

We can see the Abilene Paradox at work in the workplace as well. For example a board of executives grasping for new revenue generators can decide to invest in a new project in which no one feels confident. Additionally, an office might throw a holiday party because it's viewed as something they're supposed to do even though no one there actually wants the party. On a smaller scale, we have probably all been in meetings that end with action items that don't seemed to be tied to any real objectives. And of course meetings just for the sake of meetings are a common culprit and time waster.  

Here's the good news: there are many ways to avoid the Abilene Paradox.  It can be as simple as a group taking the time to check in at the end of a discussion and ask if everyone is satisfied with the outcome.  However, at times that is easier said than done, due to tensions in the room or simply that some people aren’t as comfortable voicing their opinion in front of a crowd.  The graphic below shows three ways to help reduce the occurrence of this paradox, known as Teach, Talk, & Watch.

Make your voice heard. Be the type of person that says "hey, maybe staff meetings at 4:30pm on Friday aren't the best idea" or "singing the birthday song doesn't have to be mandatory."  It's likely you'll end up being somewhat of a hero with more people in agreement than originally let on.  

The Difference Between Extroverts and Introverts in the Workplace

Understanding how personality type affects everyday communication can provide huge benefits, especially when applied in the workplace. Insight into things like how we prefer to give and receive directions and feedback or the way we want to structure a meeting can go a long way towards avoiding unnecessary frustration and stress. Examining the difference between extroverts and introverts gives us a lens to this experience!

Most people are familiar with extroversion and introversion, one of the four preference pairs in the Myers-Briggs system, but many people are not aware of it's application beyond knowing that it generally makes some of us louder and some of us quieter. By definition, our preference for extroversion or introversion is how we tend to focus our energy and attention, outward or inwards.  However, our preferences can create many differences in our go-to methods of communicating, that when acknowledged, leave employees happier and more productive. Here are some of the most common ways it can be addressed in the workplace.

Meetings & Brainstorming

Extroverts will generally prefer to have meetings be a lively place for discussion, where new ideas are being generated and vetted, with lots of verbal banter. In a meeting dominated by extroverts, usually the loudest prevail and only a limited number of people will have an opportunity to talk.

Introverts will usually rather have a quieter and more structured discussion with fewer people, if there is even a meeting at all. There is usually a preference for written notes rather than a group discussion. A raucous and fast-paced meeting will often leave the introverts without a chance to contribute, which creates a perception by others that they are not paying attention and/or don't have anything to contribute.

What to do: For the best outcome, structure meetings to include free-flowing brainstorming as well as designated time for everyone to talk. Provide a written agenda in advance that includes questions and issues that will be addressed during the meeting. Remember that everyone has something valuable to contribute, including those who do more listening than talking.

Personal Work Space & Small Talk

Extroverts will tend to want an open-office/open-door setting that allows for more socializing and small talk. Up to a certain amount, extroverts will get energized from social interaction, so having a workspace that facilitates connections with others can be very helpful. Extroverts will welcome distractions and enrich their ideas during pop-in meetings and water cooler discussions.

Introverts will usually prefer the exact opposite; more isolated work settings with less drop-ins and distractions. Interruptions to their concentrated work time can really get things off track. Brainstorming for an introvert usually means working and thinking alone.

What to do: Organizations can allow employees to design and structure their own workspace to match their preferences, such as getting to select low vs high walled cubicles. Although most workplaces need to facilitate some collaboration between employees, everyone can be given designated "quiet times" where they are not to be interrupted, or conversely "office hours" can be assigned where it is appropriate to pop in.

Feedback & Directions

Extroverts will usually prefer to be given feedback and or instructions verbally because they are better at working through ideas externally with others. For example, a performance review of an extrovert will go better if the majority of the feedback happens during a discussion, even through evaluating on a form is almost always a part of the process.

Introverts will tend to prefer that the majority of feedback and direction occur in a written format. They would rather have the time to read and process on their own, rather than have to relay their ideas on the spot to someone else or a group.

What to do: Organizations can proactively engage with employees to learn their preferences and then tailor communication to match. Both verbal and written communication will be a part of any workplace, but discussions, performance reviews, job/task assignment, and more can all have an emphasis on the style that works best for each employee.

Whenever applying type preferences in the workplace it's always important to not use the labels to put people in a box. Employees are much more than just extroverts and introverts, so it's not okay to use any designation as a definitive measure for someone's work style. However, understanding the real and applicable differences in personality type does give employees, managers, and teams a set of words and language they can use for discussions that lead to engaging and productive workplaces!

What is Gamification?

Simply put, gamification is when game elements and game design techniques are put to use in non-game scenarios and contexts.  Although the term gamification is relatively new, most of us are probably more familiar with the concept than we realize.  Take the social networking check-in app Foursquare for example, that’s a gamified system.  Consider reward points at your local grocery store or gas station, that’s gamification too.  We most often see gamification through the use of PBLs, or points, badges, and leaderboards.  However, according to Kevin Werbach, a professor of business ethics at The University of Pennsylvania who teaches a class on gamification and provided the definition I gave above, there is a lot more to the concept than only PBLs.

Gamification delves into matters of motivation, psychology, and economics.  It’s not limited to any one field of study and instead sets out to answer the multi-faceted and complex question of why do humans behave in certain ways.

When considered as an important tool for motivation, the applications of gamification are many and fall into three main categories:

External - Companies use game elements for marketing, sales, and customer engagement to boost sales and market presence.  

Internal - Within organizations, gamification is used for productivity boosts, garnering employee feedback, and other human resources related functions.

Behavior Change:  Utilized in individual or group applications, gamification is a powerful tool for health & wellness motivation, sustainability, or even personal finance.

Professor Werbach points out a few other key points of gamification in the online class he teaches on the subject.  First, there must be alignment between the outcomes in the implemented game and the goals of the organization.  For example, a game system applied to a call center would be more effective when points are earned for high customer satisfaction ratings rather than speed of the resolution of calls.  Points awarded to fast calls may actually leave customers unhappy.  

Next, participation must be mandatory.  If someone is forced to “play” against their will, all of a sudden that person is no longer playing but is once again at work.  One of the reasons why gamification can be so successful is because often participants will leave behind the feeling of doing work, but this can only be achieved if they are participating on their own will.  Additionally, gamification should instill some learning or problem solving.  For example, if a marketing campaign has users scratch off tickets to win, but they continually win every time they play, there is no problem present, the system stops being fun and engaging, and people will quit participating.  Think of the McDonalds’ monopoly game; one of the main reasons it’s fun is due to the good chance of not winning and it taking continued engagement to work towards the bigger prizes.  

As a professional, gamification combines my passion for training and development with my life long love of board games.  At their simplest, games are a great way to bring together and spend social, face to face time with other people.  When implemented at the organizational level, games can break new ground not only in personnel participation, but also sustained improvement over time.  Every application is unique and presents its own opportunity to overcome challenges and create never before thought of solutions.

What examples of games and gamification have you experienced in your workplace?

Contact me and let's talk about implementing gamification at your workplace.