Know Your Vessel Before You Take the Helm
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Anchored by Hillsboro Inlet this past weekend, I watched the parade of boats going in and out of the inlet.  The dozen or so boats anchored around us were all from different manufacturers and brands.

While all the boats were constructed for the purpose of taking people out to the ocean, each was designed and built differently, they each had a different number of people aboard–some even had crews.  We were on our refurbished 1996 Jupiter Cuddy, that came back to us in the last year after receiving a make-over.  Although he has been aboard it almost weekly since its return, my husband is just now getting in tune with the various nuances of a boat that is the same, yet also quite different.

It is a quite similar situation when you go into a new position at a construction company. While the new company may service the same clientele that you did at your previous employer, and most likely follow standard industry practices, it is only with time you fully discover how much the overall company operates differently than your previous one.  The people are different, the resources are different, and just as a new or refurbished boat has features that are only detectable with time, so will your new work environment.

The people on a boat not only want to know their captain is proficient at boating in general, but they also want to know he thoroughly understands the vessel he is operating.  In the same way, an employer wants to know you understand construction as it relates to their business.  However, it will take you time to learn their operation and the value they place on the people you have as part of your team.

The most valuable thing you can bring to a new employer is the ability to recognize what you don’t know about the company’s operation and its people before you begin running with your day-to-day activities, and perhaps more importantly, before making or suggesting any changes.

You see what you are looking for.  As your baseline, focus on seeing what they might be doing right and on learning how they are doing things now, instead of what you might change.  You can then bring value with change by being able to show them you understand their current mode of operation. Only then can you make viable suggestions based on facts and anticipated results instead of merely what may have worked for you and others at your previous places of employment.

When we fill an executive role within a company, we ask the team they will be joining to outline what will make this person successful in the first thirty, sixty, ninety days, six months, and one year of employment.  Never do they list “changing things in our company” among that list.

Almost always, the company’s goals for an employee’s first thirty days look something like this: 

  • Meet with each person within the company/department/etc. and gain insight as to their respective responsibilities with the company, as well as how to effectively communicate with them.
  • Learn the software programs and technology systems that are in place.
  • Shadow direct supervisor to better understand what is unique to the company and client preferences.
  • Study and learn company policies

When a smart and safe captain receives a new vessel, they do not take it across the ocean on an adventure, or even out to sea at all, until they understand the ship’s systems, how they work, and how they are controlled.

Don’t be afraid to ask whether you are meeting expectations. 

When you recognize you may be able to run with something, ask questions such as, “Would you like me to take the lead on this/help with this/etc.”

As a new employee, and especially one in a management role (versus a specific task-oriented role), recognize your initial value is in taking time to learn what you don’t know.  This comes only with communication, engagement and time with your team.  We call it the “honeymoon” period.

If you search Google for “honeymoon” you will see it says that “The honeymoon period tends to last anywhere between 6 months and a year. The relationship still feels fresh and exciting, and you’re constantly learning new things about each other and having first experiences together.”  The same holds true when you join a new employer.

Like anything new to you, whether it be an employer, boat, or home, there is always a period of familiarization. How you embrace the variances and adjust to them will set the stage for your future and determine how well you function with the item that should become comfortable with time.

Taking the time to “know what you don’t know” will build the trust of others and make them want to know more about what you do know.

To Being in the know,

Suzanne Breistol

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