I just started a new position with an organization that is pretty young in the association world. I accepted the job because everyone gets along really well and works as a team to accomplish yearly goals.
This type of culture is something I didn’t experience at my previous place of employment, but I was intensely craving it.
I am in a leadership role and am responsible for creation and development of programs. My position is fairly new and the person who held it before me is still with the company.
Here are my questions:
- I love the close bond everyone has with each other, but it’s hard to see where I fit in with the team. Everyone has strengthened their bond over time and there is no way I can catch up. We have fewer than 10 people in the office. How do I develop relationships with everyone when it appears cliques are already established?
- There is a ton of ambiguity in my position since it’s fairly new. What questions should I ask to get a clear understanding of expectations?
- When is too soon to make organization recommendations? From an outsider’s perspective, I see a couple of things that if changed would benefit the organization. However, I’ve been on board for less than four months.
Looking for Friends
Dear Looking for Friends,
First, congratulations on finding the culture you’ve been looking for. It sounds like you have a terrific opportunity to thrive and make an impact. Now to your excellent questions.
Don’t worry about making friends—instead, seek to create amicable and productive working relationships. This will take the pressure off you and everyone else. The people who will end up being your friends will emerge as a byproduct of you being yourself and producing great results over time. You can’t force it.
Since it is such a small office, I’d suggest asking each person for a one-on-one meeting—either an official in-office meeting, or a coffee or a beer. Start with each person by asking about them, their role, and their goals, which will help you understand how to support others in achieving their goals while you pursue your own. Then ask them what they love about their jobs and what they think their strengths are. This will help you know who to go to for help in ways they will appreciate. This part of the meeting will endear you to just about everyone—because you can’t underestimate how delighted people are to talk about themselves!
After that, to find out about their expectations of you, ask simple questions like:
- If I am successful in this role, what will we have in six to nine months that we don’t have yet?
- What do you think a home run would look like?
- Is there anything I should not be focusing on?
- What can I do to make your job easier?
- What do you think I need to know?
Listen carefully, take notes, don’t argue with what you think are terrible ideas, and don’t make any promises. Do brainstorm around ideas you think have merit, ask questions, and say thank you.
You should definitely spend some time with the person who previously had your job—and make sure you understand what their hopes and dreams are for the role.
Now let be me clear: I am not suggesting you actually have to do everything people think you should do. You may decide to do some things based on these conversations, and you can give credit to whoever’s idea it was, but mainly you are getting to know people, developing relationships, and acquiring a bird’s eye perspective of how you can add value to the organization.
While you are at it, let each person know they can always feel free to come to you with further ideas or feedback. So now you have opened a door and made sure people know it will stay open.
Presumably, your boss has given you some clue as to what is expected of you. If not, after all of your interviews, you can formulate your own thoughts about priorities and run them by your boss to make sure you are on the same page. Then you will have a plan you can feel good about.
Regarding how soon is too soon to make recommendations, now is definitely too soon. There is nothing like fresh eyes for uncovering inefficiencies or outmoded processes. That’s what makes it so hard to keep your mouth shut. But if you are smart, you will do exactly that. Over time—and there is no rule of thumb about how much time—you will understand why things are done in certain ways. You will be right about some of the potential changes, but you will have to earn the right to voice a strong opinion. How? By keeping your head down, being easy to work with, and doing excellent work. When you begin adding unquestioned value to the organization, people will ask you for your opinion and you won’t have to worry if it is welcome or not!
As you move forward to craft your action plan and launch yourself into execution, make sure you include many people in your plans and activities. Before you know it, people will be coming to you to share ideas and get input on their projects, good things will start happening, and you will be “in.” Stay focused on your work and you won’t even notice it happening—you will just wake up one day and realize that it has.
So happy for you. I am sure you will be brilliant and have as many friends as you need.
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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