In starting a new job, I’m learning a new culture.
As a result, these days I’m thinking about how to do that.
1. I’m walking around the building, looking in rooms where groups of people regularly meet, reading what they put on the walls. The ways that they choose to mark their territory are varied. Some put up pictures of the group. Some put up lists of prayer requests. Some put up notes about events for the group, others events by other groups. All of these are details which, even before I have conversations, help me help them understand what they are thinking about who they are.
2. I’m listening for stories. Obviously right now, many stories begin with, “David talked about…” or “David used to…” David was in this office before me. He also is a good friend. Because of the latter, I don’t worry about how often his name comes up because I know how much he cared about this place and, more importantly, these people. What is important, however, is that people use stories of David (and others) to help illustrate how things have been done and what has been important. More that rules or policies, the stories help us understand how policies are lived out.
Whitney wrote a great post about stories as learning which expands on how we use stories as compact ways of explaining. Because of the timing of hearing about that post (HT: Chris Brogan), I decided that as I talk with groups of people here, I want to say, “tell me a story that you tell all the time. Tell me a story that says what you are about. Tell me a story about this group being it’s best.”
3. I’m listening for names. Who are the names that show up consistently in conversations with many people, and what is the nature of those mentions. This tells me is who the heroes are. This also tells me how people talk about people. So far, I’m hearing organization chart mentions of names (he does that, she does this). However, I’m also hearing particular names show up regularly and people mention other people positively rather than critically. Part of this is being new, but mostly it’s because of healthy relationships.
This also also tells me about the patterns of interaction. Because this is an organization which has been around for more than 100 years, but has doubled in the last decade, I’m curious about who and what is celebrated and how well the half of the people who have been here for less than ten years understand what has happened previously.
4. I’m listening for patterns of what I am told. I know enough about organizational cultures to know that some people look for the new person because none of the ‘old’ people will implement their wonderful idea. I know that some people look for the new person because they want to find out whether they need to worry. I know that themes that matter sometimes are mentioned by several people and that sometimes the most important thing is the issue that is never identified by anyone.
5. I’m trying to be still. It’s a challenge for me. I love to do. But in doing, particularly doing that comes too quickly, we can start things that probably shouldn’t get started.
Walking into a new place can be an adventure, a very good adventure. I’m learning a lot about myself as I work on learning about this place. One day, one trust level, one relationship at a time.
For more reflections on starting a new position:
Starting about the first day on the job
Left turn about the heading to the new place after eleven years
Dragging people along about position change in a 2.0 world
Experience about walking away from the old office
What I learned from waiting backstage about taking the position
Subscribe to this blog for free by clicking here.