Back to work

Last week I started a new job. For me that’s not so unusual – it’s not that I get sacked a lot; it’s just that for much of the past 20 years I’ve been working on time-limited projects lasting from one to three years.

What this means is that I’ve got a range of experiences of starting a new job; that exciting if a little scary introduction to your new employer and fellow employees. The learning is not all one-way of course – you and your new colleagues are both sniffing each other out (and are, presumably, both keen to make a good first impression).

I should say here and now that my new team (and yes – is does already feel like a team) have made me very welcome – the right balance of informal chat, hard information, and time to learn. I think this reflects well on the wider organisation which I’ve known for the past 15 years. What they’ve made of me is, of course, an unknown (and what they’ll make of me after a staff talent show at the end of this week is even more worrying…)

What may be more instructive is to focus on the best and worst introductions I’ve had to new employers and, particularly, that first apprehensive day. As we all know, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. To save their blushes, I’m not naming names here (maybe they know who they are?)

My worst first day was not as bad as the experience of two people I know who didn’t even make it to the end of the day – one of them even left his coat behind, so keen was he to escape after the lunch break. In fact, the day in question started well enough – on arrival I was presented with a folder to read with induction materials in it. I later discovered the organisation was jumping through an ‘Investors in People’ hoop and I was never referred to that file in the rest of the time I was with the organisation. But the most memorable moment was when the Chief Officer – my line manager – arrived and declared (without knowing I was in earshot) “Oh, I’d forgotten he was coming”. Not the most positive welcome and, in truth, the relationship never really recovered. Which isn’t to say I didn’t work with some great colleagues and enjoy my role, but first impressions do count. I don’t think it left a permanent scar – although here I am talking about it two decades later!

On my best first day I was introduced to one of the biggest and most friendly organisations with which I’ve worked. There was a bunch of flowers, a bowl of fruit, and a card waiting on my desk and when I was introduced to colleagues on two floors, I was amazed that everyone seemed to know about me and asked questions that conveyed real interest. I later discovered that the trick was pulled off by my line manager sending an internal e-mail around alerting staff to my arrival – simple but effective. That thoughtfulness and friendliness continued throughout my time in the organisation although, ironically, the job didn’t turn out as I had hoped it would.

So, what have I learnt about my various arrivals in new roles with employers in the not-for-private-profit sector?

  • First impressions count: It’s a cliché, but it’s very hard for employers to win back respect if they have sent out the wrong signals in the early days and weeks
  • It’s about culture not process: If the introduction and induction feel like management are going through the motions, they probably are; a reflection of organisational values which says more about the leadership than the staff team.
  • Flexibility in a framework: Marching new recruits through a rigid two-week induction process is not necessarily the answer – people have different learn styles – but ‘having a plan’ (however flexible) is reassuring for all concerned.
  • Seeing the situation from the other side: some staff members who have been in post for many years often forget what it is to be a ‘newbie’ – a bit of thoughtfulness can go a long way (it’s the little things…)
  • Balancing: Alongside being flexible is recognition that there’s no right or wrong way to do induction; it’s always going to be about balancing… formal and informal/ personal and professional/ rules and common sense
  • Pacing the introduction: My ‘best first day’ organisation’s induction lasted around three months! I wasn’t expected to get familiar with all part of the (large) organisation in the first few weeks.

A final thought… Joining organisations on a regular basis means I also have the experience of leaving them. I think there’s whole blog post to be written on this subject – in my experience a lot of well-meaning organisations take their eyes off the ball when it comes to looking after staff who are leaving, whatever the circumstances of that departure.

 

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