In the early days of your career, it was easy to learn the new job. Depending on the complexity of the job, maybe all you needed to do was shadow a team member for a few hours or days.
But at a certain point, shadowing becomes less relevant. Why?
Because it implies that your job is a series of steps that just need to be memorized. If you watch those steps often enough, then you should be able to reproduce the same result.
It also suggests that you’re easily replaced.
That works with simple tasks, but you’re now in a job that requires more judgement, more professional reasoning. Maybe you’ll get the odd half-hour with someone, but for the most part you’re now being dumped piles of information with the expectation that you’ll just soak it in.
So… your job is more difficult, and you’re being given less guidance?
How does that make sense?
Learnin’ by earnin’
To some extent, it does make sense. You’re being paid more money, and that with that extra cash comes the expectation that you’ll be able to figure it out.
So let’s figure it out.
You can still get that “shadowing” guidance without it being explicit. No, you won’t be assigned a mentor, but who says you needed only one to begin with?
Just start setting up some time with your team members. Now I don’t know how the culture of your current team operates; maybe you just amble up to an office, maybe you have to set up a meeting, maybe you can casually go for coffee.
Doesn’t matter: the point is the same. Get some one-on-one time with your colleagues, all in the name of integrating with the team – and helping to learn the new job.
Talk to the right people
Start with the most senior people on the team who will deign to meet with you. For some teams – again, depending on the culture – that could apply to everyone. But some places are crazy hierarchical, and the important thing is to feel confident and deserving.
If you feel confident talking to the CEO? Then ask. You should go as high as you can without compromising a natural conversation.
And no, I’m not saying “high” so that you can feed the social climber in you. You start high because of two reasons.
The first reason is that you’ll have a better chance of getting the overarching, strategic story of the organization or team. People at the working level can often be consumed by producing, but senior managers might have a better reason for why anything is being produced at all, helping you to learn the new job faster.
Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t motivate myself to do anything until I know the end game. (I just hope that I can believe in the end game once I hear it!)
The second reason for talking to senior people is that they know the point people below them.
“If you want to know more about X, talk to John. If you want to know more about Y, talk to Rachel.”
One conversation can turn into easy five more easy possibilities.
Starting the conversation
So what should you say?
I find the best way to start these conversations is to make it personal. When broaching the subject (whether it be through a meeting request or a casual walk-up), make it about introductions.
“I was just hoping to learn a bit more about you, what your role is, and how it fits into the bigger picture.”
Taking a look at those three mini-questions:
- The first one suggests the person is someone worth knowing more about, so they’ll be more than happy to entertain the new guy.
- The second one talks about the role, and not the person. The worst thing you could do as the new person is ask, “I don’t understand: what do you do around here?” Make it neutral, and they won’t feel challenged.
- The third question implies that their role does fit into the bigger picture, so, again, they’ll be happy to talk. Maybe after hearing them talk you’ll actually decide that the role is useless, but that’s okay: right now, you just want to know what everyone does.
Ask key questions
With the first mini-question, the person in front of you will probably go through a bit of personal history, and then you’ll go through yours. Which is really great – one of the biggest success factors in building a network is just being a nice, friendly person.
Once you get into the details of the person’s role, however, start probing with questions.
“And how do you do that?”
“Who else is involved?”
“Sounds challenging – does it generally go pretty smoothly?”
One thing that’s universal about every team in every company in every country is that they LOVE to talk about the challenges they’ve overcome. If you play dumb and ask if everything is easy, you’re virtually guaranteed to get a giant smile and speech that could have been written by Martin Luther King.
But the important thing is to probe. Try to understand the process, even if you’re not sure how it’s relevant. You don’t know where the pieces fit in these early days, so just gather as many pieces as you can.
Once you feel you’re running dry of probing questions, shift into, “How do I fit into the process, and how can I help?”
And watch the interviewee’s energy renew itself.
Easiest way to learn the new job
It’s rare when you build abundant amounts of goodwill, learn boatloads, and get hidden gems of strategic importance all in one sitting – but it’s possible with one-on-one get-to-know-ya’s.
You don’t have to meet with everyone, and in fact: I would say don’t meet with everyone. You’ll very quickly get a feel for who is has been doing their job faithfully for ten years, and who just wants a gossip buddy.
But you’ll get a sense just as quickly for who is passionate about the work, and who desperately wants an ally in building the best business in the world.
You’ll still have to piece together everything you’ve learned, and that does take a strategic approach. Sure, it’s not as straightforward as shadowing.
But who wants to things to be so boring?
Have you reached out to team members to learn the new job? How did it go? Tell us in the comments!