Part 2: How Does the Organization Work?

Micah’s first week on the job went incredibly well. The person who took her around the office was friendly and seemed so knowledgeable about where everything in the office belonged and the written processes for getting work done. Micah was thrilled that she had been given a mentor for her first week who was so detail orientated. Monday morning of week two came around and Micah finally had the opportunity to speak with Rohit, her new boss, for the first time since she had been hired by him. Rohit was a friendly, but no-nonsense guy, so when Micah told him all that she had learned in the first week. He responded, “Well, that’s not going to help your career much.” She was crestfallen.

What did Rohit mean and what should Micah do? Because Micah was unfamiliar with the organizational culture and even more specifically, with her boss’ personality traits, she wasn’t sure how to react. In our last installment, we identified that fear is a natural part of the job change process. Often times, that fear is based on a lack of knowledge about how the organization works. Let’s explore some possible solutions for those, who like Micah, find themselves in unfamiliar territory when starting a new role.

Finding Answers to Critical Questions

The first days at work should include more than finding the restrooms and coffee machine. Even if you are not new to an organization, just new to a role you must embrace a significant organizational learning curve before becoming optimally productive. Each organization and subpart of an organization has its own structures, norms, and objectives that sometimes are not explicitly clear before accepting a job offer. Before getting into the nitty gritty of a new job make sure you have a good understanding of the below annotated list of questions:

  • What are the organization’s goals?

To maximize profits is not always the right answer. A legal department might have the goal of reducing the company’s exposure to litigation and compliance expense. A research and development group may have the goal to fully explore X technology. The basic idea is to find the goal of your specific team and leadership so that your work product is focused toward that goal.

  • What is the normal structure? 

Who is the boss and the boss’ boss? How does the chain of command flow, or is there even a chain of command?

  • What is the organizational language? 

New jargon and acronyms make changing jobs seem like learning a new language. Sometimes there are new words for already known concepts. Sometimes there are new words for already known concepts. Sometimes there are new concepts and words that need to be learned. Sometimes there are word cognates between the old job and new job. Sadly, there are times when false cognates are there to trip a new employee, usually at the worst time. Organizations that care about their new employees will often have an online dictionary of terms used – this is great. But when such a luxury does not exist, it’s important to seek out the meaning of jargon and acronyms used. To avoid confusion, check to make sure you use familiar words and acronyms correctly, and with the proper meaning established by the organization.

  • What do we call our product and service offerings? 

Special names for products and services are a big part of the organizational brand. Learn the names of the products and services your organization offers. Even if the product is the same widget that is offered at every convenience store in the world, learn its proper name within the company and why the name was originally given. This provides insight into the company and will allow you to seem more “in the know” when communicating with colleagues.

  • Who are our customers? Good organizations consider their employees their number one asset, but the customers still pay the bills. Customer groups and characteristics should be known by everyone within the company, not just the marketing and sales departments. Knowing the customers and their characteristic will allow the new employee to begin to make decisions and take actions based upon perceived customer needs.

  • What are the organizational systems and processes?

How does the organization and its technologies work? What are the product features, organizational methods, technologies, standard procedures, organizational units, teams, committees, etc. that exist and how does this impact the organization and one’s role within the organization? If you start asking these questions early on, you may find it easier to navigate in your new role as you’ll have better context and information on the company’s infrastructure.

  • What are the chronic issues and problems within the organization?

Just like humans, most companies have a set of bad habits that create recurring problems. It’s important to research and ask questions to uncover these chronic issues, but beyond that, ask yourself: how can I resolve these issues to create value? While you may not single-handedly solve every key problem, you can find ways to influence positive change within your organization if you’re aware of the issues.

  • What does success look like?

What is perceived as important actions and characteristics for success? How is it measured? Is it measured at all? Start with your immediate supervisor and peer group for answers to these questions, but keep them in mind when working with colleagues from other groups or when interfacing with leadership.

While this list of questions may seem exhausting it is not exhaustive. Other variables may lead you to ask much deeper questions about products, culture, people, etc.

Here’s the Final Question:

How does one go about raising these questions? Simple, just ask, but ask early and often and broadly. Functional organizations are filled with people who are willing, if not flat out desirous of helping other people. Asking for help and information is the quickest way to get information. When asking questions, ask a broad scope of people similar questions to ensure broad and deep coverage and understanding of the topic. When people answer your questions, demonstrate you “get it” then ask more in-depth questions to show interest and learn more. This will also help to ensure understanding of how component parts relate to the broader organization system – which will lead to greater long-term success.

Asking the aforementioned questions may have helped Micah with understanding Rojit’s response, and also give her a running start in her new role. In the upcoming installment of this series we will meet Mary who learned how her new organization worked while simultaneously developing strong relationships within the organization.

This blog post is part of a series of installments on Career Transition:

  1. Part 1: Getting Established in a New Organization or Role
  2. Part 2: How Does the Organization Work?
  3. Part 3: Building Relations with Co-workers