8 mins read

The new working world is more fluid than ever. Gone are the days of working for the same company straight out of school or university until retirement. There is still some stigma attached to ‘job-hopping’, but people are now really seeing the benefit of getting different experience in different roles, which is putting them in good stead for their prime working years. It’s not just new companies and roles either; recent studies suggest that young people today can expect to have five different careers in their lifetimes. Then if you also consider the gig economy, peer to peer economy and ‘side hustle’ rhetoric, it’s little wonder the world of work as we once knew it is a thing of the past.

However, while there can be benefits to the individual when changing jobs, high turnover rates are detrimental to businesses. According to this article in Houston Chronicle, even losing an employee on minimum wage can cost a company up to $25,000 in hiring expenses, training labour, lost sales and productivity. And that’s not to mention the hidden costs that come with the impact on team morale and the customer experience.

If the emerging trends are anything to go by, it’s safe to assume that talent across all industries will be changing jobs frequently in the coming years. Business leaders need to be prepared to welcome new talent into their organisations and ensure that they set the right tone from the outset for newbies to go forth and prosper.

Through my own experience as an Iteration Manager in a number of tech companies, I’ve witnessed, experienced and been responsible for many induction processes. I’ve also seen differing results.

I’ve identified three common traps talent can fall into in the first few months of a new role, and how leaders can help new starters to avoid them:

Focusing too much on learning new technology and not enough on understanding the culture of the business

Whenever new tech talent starts in a new role, understandably, the first instinct for them is to jump headfirst into learning the new tech involved. As is often the case, just because someone has come from a similar role within the industry, doesn’t mean they will know the ins and outs of the tech at their new organisation.

For example, both Jenkins and Bamboo are popular tools built for Continuous Integration in the DevOps process. They are both used for maintaining the code base but do so using different frameworks. While Jenkins is an open-source program that is more customisable, Bamboo is developed by Atlassian and is a more fixed end-to-end service.

A new starter in an organisation may have come from somewhere that uses Jenkins, but their new workplace uses Bamboo. As a result, the natural instinct is to put all their time and attention to learning how to use Bamboo. But, in my experience – learning any new program or technology is a process that takes time and is best done through practice and repetition.

While it is important to learn the new technology, it’s equally (if not more) important for a new starter to understand the new organisation’s culture – especially in those critical first few months. Every organisation has a different culture, and is made up of different personalities and has different communication styles.

For example, in my previous workplace, we were all working out of different locations, so the preferred method of communication was email. At Intelematics, before COVID-19 forced us to work remotely, we were all working in a lively, collaborative and interactive in-person environment. Through observing the team operate, I quickly noticed that the preferred methods of communication were face-to-face, or through Slack. I adjusted my behaviour accordingly, reduced the number of emails I was sending and focused on face-to-face interaction. I found almost immediately that I was getting more done and having more success.

If new starters focus too intensely on learning new technology in the early days of a new role, they may miss out on crucial cultural cues that will help them better fit in and succeed in the long run. Learning new technology comes with practice, its best to trust the process.

Leaders have a role to play in empowering new starters to understand the culture of their new organisation. It’s vital that in the early days, leaders don’t overwhelm new starters with too much work and avoid throwing them in the deep end if possible.

Leaders responsible for overseeing the new starter in their first few months could consider setting up regular check-ins. These don’t have to be too formal and could even be over a coffee or a walk. Regular check-ins help both the new starter and the leader identify areas that are working, and areas where the new starter may need further guidance. It also helps to gauge how a new starter is adapting to the team and the work environment.

By setting the right tone in these early discussions and providing the right coaching, it helps the new starter understand the organisation’s culture and communication style.

Focusing too much on learning the products and not enough on understanding roles and responsibilities

When starting a role in a tech company, new starters are inundated with product information. They feel they need to know everything immediately about how products work, how it’s developed, who the customers are, how it’s marketed – the list goes on.

This can be incredibly overwhelming and push new starters to take a dogged approach in their quest for product knowledge, which risks putting new colleagues off. If a new starter is setting up endless meetings with people, or going to the wrong people requesting information, they risk wasting their own time and creating inefficiencies for the wider team.

As is the case with learning new technology, knowledge of new products comes best from observation and learning by osmosis. Again, if we trust the process – product expertise will come in due course.

In the first few months on the job, it’s essential new starters get a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities within a new organisation.

A strong understanding of roles and responsibilities empowers the new starter to approach the right people for the right information. For example, if you require a change to a product, you need to know who that product owner is. Then taking it a step further, if you require a change to a specific product component, you need to know who the design lead is within that product team.

An easy way to get to know the roles and responsibilities within a new organisation is through a simple stakeholder matrix. Here’s one I’ve created in Microsoft Excel that simply outlines the team member by name, role and responsibility (or expectation):

Product ownership matrix

This can be easily emulated and helps keep track of who’s who in the zoo in those early days – and will save new starters time in the long run.

Leaders can help new starters along in understanding roles and responsibilities early by providing the right information in the induction pack. For example, an induction pack provided to a new starter could include a prepopulated stakeholder matrix (like the example above) outlining all the key people they need to know in their role. Leaders could then encourage new starters to set up an introductory meeting with each stakeholder outlined in the matrix.

An induction pack could also provide an intro task, designed to help the new starter get to know the products and technologies – but without overwhelming them.

Focusing too much on trying to impress and not enough on building trust with the team

Of course, whenever anyone starts a new role in any company, the goal is always to make a strong first impression. However, because we all feel the pressure to make our mark early, it can lead to a ‘bull in a china shop’ mentality.

The common trap for new starters is that they go in guns blazing and make a change for change’s sake, without getting to know the business and how the new team operates. New starters can also fall into the trap of being too demanding and aggressive in their approach, which puts people offside and is a roadblock to building positive long-term relationships that are crucial to success in any role.

The most important foundation for long-lasting relationships is trust. As a manager once said to me, if you build trust with someone, they will jump out of a window for you! (maybe an extreme example, but you get the point!).

Of course, building trust takes time – but there are a few things leaders can do to help new starters build trust with their team:

  • Encourage new starters to listen and observe: In the early days of a new job, people are trying to take in as much information as possible. The best way to do this is by listening to and observing the people around you. If the team feels the new starter is listening to them, they will feel respected and valued for their expertise, which goes a long way in building trust. For an organisation’s leaders, this means giving new starters the ‘bandwidth’ to be able to listen and observe by not loading them up with too much work. It also means setting reasonable expectations for the first few months – let new starters know it’s ok for them to take some time to find their feet.
  • Give insight into the unique personalities of the team: For new starters, understanding the personalities and the dynamics within their new team and what makes each member tick is essential to building trust. If you can understand what motivates certain personality types, you’ll be able to communicate with them better, which is the cornerstone of trust. For example, a leader within an organisation would know that when communicating with person X, you need to talk numbers as maximising profit and minimising loss is their top priority. At the same time, a leader may also know that person Y, is most concerned with a project’s impact on the organisation’s people, so communication with them should be tailored accordingly. It is up to the leader to give the new starter these insights to provide them with a good foundation for building trust within the team.
  • Coach new starters on the right approach to team discussions: At Intelematics, we take a collaborative approach to all of our work. This means that in any meeting, team members are encouraged to collaborate and take the best bits of everyone’s thinking to develop the best possible solution. So, our leaders are responsible for coaching new starters to take this approach. This principle is commonplace across the industry, so the same can apply to many organisations. Leaders can coach new starters on intent – encouraging them that their job is not to convince people that their idea is best, but rather to find the best solution as a team. By encouraging openness and fostering a collaborative spirit, leaders are giving new starters the tools they need to build relationships formed on trust. 

By not falling into common traps and actively focusing on understanding the culture of an organisation, roles and responsibilities and building trust – new starters give themselves the best chance at long-term success. However, an organisation’s leaders must provide new starters with the time to adapt in the right way. I’ve seen first-hand the positive impact this approach can have on building confidence, accountability, flexibility and versatility in new talent. High performing teams rely on top talent, and nothing can make you feel better as a leader than to have coached a new starter well and watch them take flight.