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.

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!

Tempered Radicals: Rocking the Boat

Feeling confined and restricted at work isn’t just a problem for millennials who typically seek greater flexibility than other sectors of the workforce. Everyone can be adversely affected by an abundance of unnecessary rules and over the top hierarchy. Some structure is good, of course; properly defined and communicated organizational guidelines can give all levels of staff the framework for appropriate behavior.

What about when the rules feel a little too constricting? There are moments when people feel like policies and procedures not only hamper individuality and expression, but ultimately stunt creativity, happiness, and productivity. If a person spends a significant portion of the day mumbling under their breath due to frustration towards a rule regarding food storage in the break room fridge, they’re probably not getting as much work done as they could. It’s even possible some of that lost work time is spent browsing job postings while dreaming of an office with no fridge restrictions.

Usually though, it takes too much effort to chase after grass-is-greener job opportunities and people tend to stick around while finding ways to push back against confining rules and cultural norms. When this sort of resistance is done with enough subtlety to not incur any major backlash it is called being a tempered radical. Being a tempered radical means rocking the boat enough to make waves, but not enough to tip the boat over. In the workplace, it gives employees a way to express their individuality, and to some degree, a means of protest. For example, if an office had a policy banning traditional ethnic clothing, an employee may act as a tempered radical by wearing just a scarf or headband that technically breaks the rule, but doesn’t draw enough attention to warrant punishment.

When carried out appropriately, acting as a tempered radical has its benefits:

  • It allows employees to feel like they are autonomous and have free will in the workplace, which leads to satisfaction and retention.

  • It usually doesn’t cause enough disruption to negatively affect the productivity of the workplace. If the action isn’t seen as an issue, there is no time wasted on meetings, discipline, and new policies.

  • It can create community among staff who share in an action or issue.

  • Most importantly, it can lead to long term changes in the workplace. As organizations become increasingly used to a number of small deviances from the norm, policies and cultural practices will likely be adjusted to accommodate the behavior. Big changes can occur over time from small steps!

Rather than create some made up examples for this post, I polled my social network for ways they have been tempered radicals in a work environment. I received a slew of responses from millennials, baby-boomers, and those in between. You will see that sometimes a tempered radical will act for their own personal health and well-being, while other times it actually creates positive and productive change in the workplace.

Wearing a unique ear piercing at a large and traditional company.

Breaking a culture of silent acceptance by posing questions to management about organizational decisions that affect staff.

Altering the company dress code by advocating against business casual.

Changing the culture of meetings by being early, standing, checking email at appropriate times, requesting agendas, and advocating for fewer meetings comprised of only the necessary attendees.

Pushing the boundaries of meeting procedures by eating during meetings and breaking hierarchy by sitting at the table with senior staff.

Addressing physicians by their first name.

Promoting calm environments by hosting tea parties.

Countering traditional business appearance through casual clothes, an alternative hairstyle, and tattoos.

Wearing a unique hair color to a professional conference.

Keeping a nontraditional hairstyle among a group of more traditional employees.

Addressing board members by first name.

Jump starting an ongoing staff potluck event in an office typically lacking in socialization.

Promoting work/life balance by requesting and receiving sabbaticals and remote work arrangements.

Wearing bright colors in a space where grey, blue, and black are the norm.

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.