Balance initiative, caution in new job

As the economy rebounds more Americans are finding new jobs. And if you're about to start a new position, it's likely you're anxious to plunge right in and show them your stuff. After all, in this business climate, most employers are impatient and want to see results right away.

On the other hand, you may have heard this advice: Lay low and figure out how things work first...get a feel for the corporate culture before you make any changes so they don't backfire.

Unfortunately, both strategies could spell trouble and derail your career unless you assess the situation you're entering and know which approach to take. For example, in a turn around situation, you will need to act swiftly...but in a situation where the culture is well established and things move more slowly, the second approach is better. In any event, most newcomers need to strike a balance-and it can be tricky unless you have a plan that will help you walk that tightrope.

Recently, outplacement and search firms have been noticing some changes in the expectations of new employees. They report that the corporate environment is getting tougher for new recruits who don't fit in during the first few months. Rather than giving the newcomer time to figure out what's expected, employers say they can't afford to wait. Consequently, people are finding themselves unemployed again before they had much of a chance to prove themselves.

Don't let this happen to you. Here are some tips:

Investigate the culture before you say "Yes." Ask to speak to co-workers, employees, and customers...anyone you think can give you a good perspective. Ask questions such as, "What's the culture like?" "What gets rewarded around here?" "What do you need to be careful about?" "What's the best and the worst thing about working here?"

Have a discussion with your prospective boss about the job expectations and desired results before you take the job. If you can't pin your new boss down about what results he or she expects in the first six months to a year, you could be vulnerable later.

Instead of going into your new job with your guns blazing, pick out easy, visible targets for your first accomplishments-and leave the thornier ones for later.

Make it a point to spend plenty of time with people inside and outside your department. You need to build broad alliances with as many people as possible during the first few months of the honeymoon period. Their support and advice is important for your success. Don't hole up in your office and study reports.

Make sure you spend enough face-to-face time with your boss. Your relationship with your boss is the most important factor in keeping your new job. Most people get fired early in a new job because they misinterpreted their boss's expectations.

Draw up a "working together" memo. A working together memo is a document that clearly spells out what your boss wants from you in the first few months. Then ask your new boss to meet with you every few weeks to see if you're on track.

Ask questions. Don't worry about sounding dumb or naive. What is dumb is not asking enough questions.

If you're a manager, spend time with your employees learning about them and what they do. Ask their advice and gather their input early to work out team problems. You can be sure your boss and everyone else in the company will ask your employees what they think of you...make sure you earn a positive reply.

These important steps can keep you from getting derailed before your train ever leaves the station. If you can balance your drive to get results with a pace and style that fits the culture, you're sure to stay on track.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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