I started a new job on January 4th. I had been at my previous job for over twelve years. I was deeply entrenched in the company culture. I knew how things worked. I knew how to dress, how to behave and how to interact with coworkers and supervisors. I knew who made the rules and how to get things done. I realized the day I showed up to interview for this job, that I had a whole new world to learn.
I heard recently that over 40% of new hires don’t make it past the first year and the reason for many was because they couldn’t fit in with the new company culture.
There may be times in your career where the only way of making more money is to change jobs. There are other situations where you’re going to have to find a new job. If you want to make it past the first year, you are going to want to integrate into the company or organizational culture.
Every workplace has its own organization culture. Most of this is unspoken although a lot can be learned from an employee manual if there is one.
Here is some advice on adjusting to a new company culture. Please feel free to add your own in the comments. I could use all the advice I can get!
When everything is different it’s easy to jump to conclusions about why things are done. Even if you are hired on as a new manager for a dysfunctional organization, don’t make changes in the first few weeks. Watch and observe how things are done. Take notes. Keep track. Figure out who has the power. Begin to understand the unspoken rules. Give it some time to understand the reasons behind the behaviour and you’ll be much more successful at understanding the root causes of any disfunction. It doesn’t mean you can’t change things later. You can. You just have to be careful about making change before you really understand the whole situation.
When in Rome
The day I showed up for my interview I was ridiculously overdressed. Everyone was wearing jeans. In my mind I was thinking, “Is it casual Tuesday or does everyone dress this way?” It turns out it’s a very casual workplace. It’s a good thing I didn’t go out and buy myself a fresh new business wardrobe. I would have had no place to wear it.
Was I surprised to learn that everyone eats lunch at their desk? Yes, I was. Did I keep quiet about it and eat lunch at my desk? Yes, I did.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
I hate looking incompetent. I was at my last job for long enough that I knew what I was doing and I did it well. In a new role, there is so much I have to learn. It’s ok to ask questions. You’re new. You’re not suppose to know how things work. Take your time in those first few weeks. Observe as much as you can and don’t be afraid to ask about anything you don’t understand. Yes, it’s humbling to admit you don’t know but it’s better than taking a guess at something or pretending to know more than you do.
Be prepared to make mistakes
Part of learning a new culture means making lots of mistakes. It’s more important to handle your mistakes well than to try to avoid them altogether. Mistakes are inevitable. They are also embarrassing. Day two of my new job I arrived at a scheduled meeting. I could tell something was wrong and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then one of the employees kindly explained that I was suppose to run the meeting. Oops. Next Tuesday I’ll be more prepared. It may have been tempting to get defensive and say, “Nobody told me!” Instead I laughed at my mistake and said, “Well, next time I’ll come more prepared!”
Beginning a new job can be exhausting. We live so much of our life on autopilot. When everything is new, autopilot is turned off. We’re meeting new people, remembering new names, learning new rules and new job skills. Even if you did the exact same thing at your last job, they’ll want it done differently at this one. You can still be professional while making mistakes in those first few weeks. Just remember to keep your sense of humour and learn from every mistake you make.
What is your advice for learning a new company culture?
Kathryn has been a staff writer for MDJ since January 2009. During the day she works in an office. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.
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