New in the job? Fix what needs fixing

Right now, a few people are stepping up to new roles. They may get off to a great start – or trip up – with the whole world watching. I don’t envy their situation. But it reminds me of some priceless advice I was given long ago. Whether you’re about to head a new project, lead a different team – or wear a crown or run the country –  if you’re new in the job this simple (but not always easy) advice might help.

Many years back, a wise manager gave me that advice when I started a new role. Everything was new: new job, new employer, new country. It was both exciting and intimidating; there was so much to see, learn and do. So, I decided the best thing I could do was what I was good at: organising stuff, such as processes, projects and productivity. Give everything a good sorting-out. It seemed such a good idea at the time – but it wasn’t.

A few weeks in, my predecessor invited me to lunch. Still with the firm and very much part of its fabric, he was highly intelligent and perceptive. He was also somewhat disorganised. And he was adored by the team I’d inherited. He complimented me on getting things organised, putting some systems in place and we talked about the challenges of the role.

It soon became clear that some of the team were a bit unnerved by all my organising. I realised that whilst I was doing something well, it wasn’t what the team most needed from me.  One of the main reasons I’d been hired was to use my experience to support and develop the team. The role also required me to build professional relationships with clients and key stakeholders But instead, staying in my comfort zone, there was a great deal I wasn’t doing at all…

When we’re in a new situation, our default can be to focus on what we’re good at and stick to it. It may be helpful, it may be useful, or it may be the last thing we got hired for. For example:

  • The new HR person who decides the appraisal system needs a total re-design – even though everyone thinks what they’ve already got works very well
  • The new CEO who brings in their pet suppliers of workplace technology, new business leads, incentives – you name it – and expects everyone to adopt them
  • The new project manager who installs a whole new system for getting work done, requiring everyone to learn the new tools and work differently

Another senior manager spotted my discomfort and kindly spelled it out:

“Find what needs fixing. And fix that.”

Blinkered by my own viewpoint, what I hadn’t done was get input from others about what needed fixing. Yes, of course the job role had been discussed in the hiring process; the title and what came with it. What wasn’t explicit was what the priorities were for this job, in this company, with these people at this time. I had asked questions, but not the right ones. Lesson learned (the first of many at that workplace).

Once I started asking people for their observations, several things shifted for the better. People were happy to offer ideas and suggestions: some were basics that could be improved right away, such as being on time instead of late for meetings (a common basic B2B irritant); others were longer-term, such as toughening up on scopes of work. I got greater clarity about the priorities for the team and what we needed to deliver and do – now, next and later. The team responded with energy and enthusiasm. If you’re in a new role, take my former colleague’s advice and find out what needs fixing. It may surprise you.

NOTE: Of course, the current crop of new people in roles face enormous challenges – but it will be interesting to see if they fix what needs fixing. 


You may find this post useful: ‘Help! My boss told me I ‘need more gravitas’ – what can I do?’


Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ 


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