New employees are often lavishly courted, persistently pursued, and even occasionally cajoled by hiring organizations, especially if they have rare, unique, or high-demand skills or experience. But once they’re inside the door…watch out! Often, the corporate indoctrination machine takes over despite the best intentions of an organization and new employees are left to the firehose tour of policies, personal benefits forms, nondisclosure agreements, and the process of orientation. Even in organizations with effective mentoring programs, new employees are often assumed to know the following nine points and are never actually told them. Time and again, promising employees fall victim to the merciless consequences of not knowing these success factors. Forewarned is forearmed…
- All organizations have a culture that is an amalgam of laws, regulations, practice, history, mores, and politics – learn it. You cannot be successful by ignoring organizational culture, and sometimes you can’t by following it. It contains many unspoken rules, including what constitutes appropriate dress for the office and how you address problems on an informal level. I mention dress because business casual is not the norm for many offices and dressing down can make you appear unprofessional or lazy to people whose decisions matter. In some offices, business casual is more like “This Old House” and either gender wearing a business suit will stick out like a sore thumb. That being said, it never hurts to dress like the leaders of your organization, but endeavor not to outdress them.
- Adhere to the established chain of command. They exist in non-military organizations, too. It can take forever for good ideas to make it up where they do some good. “No” isn’t always a negative comment about your idea. Good managers know their organizational culture, and they know when the timing may be wrong for your idea. It’s good if they tell you that the time isn’t right, but even good managers don’t always tell you everything you need to hear. And, if you skip a management layer without approval, don’t be surprised when the layer with which you speak informs the subordinate layer.
- You cannot be friends with your superiors, but you can be friendly. Apuleius said, “Familiarity breeds contempt, while rarity wins admiration.” It is difficult not to become familiar with managers and coworkers in offices where first names are the norm, where people often lunch together or socialize after work, and where the working environment is friendly. Friendliness does not make people unprofessional, it makes the work environment more pleasant; however, expecting to capitalize on friendships in the workplace at the expense of accountability is unprofessional. Your managers will do you a great disservice if they fail to mentor you, including corrective action, and you will do them a great disservice if you expect them to overlook your needs because you or they want to be friends.
- Do not play in office politics. You cannot remain outside office politics. While seemingly paradoxical, both statements are true. Politics exists in any office on many different levels. You need to observe and understand what is going on in the office and it helps to learn where skeletons are hidden – moreso because you don’t want to be putting the broom away and have the boss come along and think you’re putting the skeleton away. You will be “in” office politics even if you never gossip, make it a rule never to have lunch with coworkers, never socialize with coworkers after work, and always toe the administration line. Most of those things, by the way, will make your life very lonely, at least in the office. Chat, have lunch with someone if it suits you, but never gossip about or denigrate coworkers or your leaders.
- Email is a powerful tool and greatly facilitates communication, but it is lacking in an essential element. Remember that there is no body language conveyed in email. Things often get misconstrued. If at all possible, conduct conversations in person or on the phone and follow up by email for a record. Official communications should not be accompanied with emoticons…Email is fast and convenient, but professionalism requires you to treat official communications with dignity. Email is forever and generally is subject to the legal discovery process. Don’t put anything in email that you wouldn’t put on a postcard or that you wouldn’t want seen by someone you respect. If you need to write an email that criticizes someone or something, write it but don’t send it. Put it away and read it in an hour. Read it again in two. A blistering email sent is a negative impression of you that cannot be recalled, and it may be many people’s first impression of you.
- Don’t blow your own horn. Harry S. Truman said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” You’re very lucky if you’re blessed with a boss who gives credit where it is due, even when he or she would look really good if they took credit. However, if you aren’t so lucky, never blow your own horn. Excellence speaks for itself, even if it occasionally takes a while. If you do excellent work and are professional about your response both when you get credit and when you don’t, your reputation will grow.
- Don’t lollygag, but be available where managers congregate. Remember that areas where people casually congregate at work are natural places to have conversations. Managers often have ideas crystallize on the spot and frequently issue assignments to the person they’re talking to if they believe them capable. This isn’t always the best way to make assignments, but it happens. If you believe you aren’t getting assignments because you don’t hang out in the conversation area, you need to become much more proactive about how you seek assignments.
- Seek out several mentors. Having one mentor is like having one friend. You miss out on the incredible gifts possessed by different people. Every person has something positive to offer, and having several mentors, both inside and outside your organization, is essential to becoming a well-developed person. Not all managers have faced the same trials, and good mentors will be able to recount how they recovered after failures. They will also tell you how you can improve yourself. Remember that personality plays a large part in mentoring, and not all people are compatible. You can learn your most valuable lessons from people who aren’t like you.
- Participate in social activities with your office. You don’t have to attend everything, but attending some functions is a good idea and it allows you and your managers to get to know each other in a less formal environment. Go to the holiday parties, occasionally go to happy hour, even if you’d rather go out with friends from your personal life rather than work. If you cannot drink responsibly, do not go to office social functions.
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