09 June 2009

Walking into the Middle of the Conversation

One of the main difficulties in starting a new job is getting up to speed with what's already going on. In some ways, you'd think 2+ years of consulting would mean I was exceptionally well prepared for this. But starting a consulting gig is a little different. Consulting engagements are usually narrowly defined projects that the consultant's already familiar with from the proposal process. The consultant always gets an in-house minder (aka the organization's Project Manager) to negotiate admin and, more importantly, internal political issues. And of course, many times the first stage of a consulting engagement is to review the precise critical documents and interview the key stakeholders than have bearing on your engagement. And someone else, who already has all the institutional background, has done the sorting and ordering for you.

I had forgotten that coming on as staff is not the same.

Don't get me wrong, NACHRI has a good orientation process - a few days of heavy HR/paperwork, getting whatever you need to make your office comfortable, solid IT introduction (plus an extensive MOSS IT site), 1 hour orientation meetings with each department to meet the players and learn what they do, a get-acquainted appointment with the CEO, an appointment with their ergonomics expert to set up your workstation properly, etc. And most of the key players in my department have aleady taken me out for get-to-know-you lunches (and a free lunch is ALWAYS appreciated).

But I'm still feeling a little behind the curve.

Part of what's causing that is that this is the first time NACHRI has tried to centralize marketing. That means I'll be working with nearly everyone on staff (and 90 people is a lot of people to try to get to know) and there's a lot of pent up demand for help (which means that there are a lot of projects already underway where I'm trying to offer ideas and assistance while figuring out exactly what the project is).

So I end up in a lot of meetings where I'm still trying to match names to faces to departments to responsibilities to projects to "what exactly are we trying to promote here, and to whom?" I'm trying to come up with useful suggestions and ideas we can implement right now and good plans for the future, often on the fly. And this is all happening while I'm trying to sort out real and apparent authority, aka "who REALLY needs to weigh in on this, and who REALLY has final say?"

And master a whole new range of acronyms in the process.
So, association peeps, what are your favorite strategies for learning a new place quickly?



3 comments:

Deirdre Reid said...

I'm interested in seeing favorite strategies too since I'm expecting to land in a new place too in the coming months. I've always tried to take advantage of my outsider perspective and capture as many impressions, questions, and ideas as possible before I become too much of an insider. That perspective is valuable and will come in handy later.

Lisa Junker said...

Oh, I absolutely remember this feeling from when I started at ASAE & The Center. Especially given that there are three times as many staff here as there were at my last association, just matching names with faces was enough to overload my brain!

The strategy I've used most often when starting a new job: Read everything that doesn't run away first. I read back issues of magazines, as much of the website as I could cover, internal memos, old files--anything I could find that might help me start building a mental framework to organize around. Once I had a sense of who did what where, I could start to file new information in my head and retreive it more easily.

But then, I'm a reading junkie. =) I've known other people who used those get-to-know-you lunches more extensively, to try to get a lot of the information I got through reading through conversation. It depends on what works best for you.

Good luck! NACHRI is lucky to have you.

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE said...

Lisa and Deirdre, thanks for the thoughtful comments/advice!