Tuesday, January 15, 2013

From the Article Archive: Getting the Lay of the Land in a New Role

What is the best way to navigate a role-change to a new team at a large company?

During a leadership webinar, Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, Senior Vice President and Chief Tax Officer of the Wal-Mart Tax Department, shared with me the importance of quickly getting the lay of the land when coming into a new position. She explained, “The first step that I take when taking on a new assignment or a new project is what I call ‘surveying the landscape.’ I study my surroundings, and I try to understand the people and processes that drive value in that particular area.”

Here's how to quickly survey the landscape when you start a new role.

1. Find someone with organizational savvy
Find someone who is well-regarded and well-networked in your new group and ask if you can schedule some time to speak them. It could be your new manager or someone who appears to have some influence in your new group. Let them know you appreciate how knowledgeable and well-connected they are, and that you would appreciate their advice as you begin your new role. Review the org chart with them. Ask:
  • Who are the key stakeholders I should get to know?
  • Who should I introduce myself to?
  • What questions should I ask them?
Create a checklist of names and create a plan to connect with each person in your first months in the job.

2. Become the go-to-person
Before you set out to meet those key people, develop a 30-second commercial that concisely explains your role, your responsibilities, and how you can be of help. Share it at every opportunity as a way of educating others about your role, and the reasons why they should come to you. Use it to introduce yourself to all the key people, asking how you can help each other and listen for tips on how you can make the greatest impact in your role. Here is a format to use:
a)    Your name
b)    Your new job title
c)    I am responsible for… (share three concise bullet points that describe your role)
d)    Come directly to me whenever you need… (share three more concise bullet points that describe the reasons why they should come to you.
Seize every opportunity to introduce yourself in this way so that you can educate others about your new role, the value that you add, and why they should come to you.

3. Embark on a listening tour
Start your new role with a “listening tour” by connecting with every individual on your list of key stakeholders. The purpose is not just to introduce yourself, but to have a meaningful and educational discussion with each one of them in your first month in the job.

Your goal is more than just getting introduced. In each conversation you will most definitely need to introduce yourself and your role, and ask them to do the same. Discuss the ways that you can help each other, but also listen for additional information that is going to help you uncover who people and processes are that really drive value. Gather intelligence on the following categories:

a) Informational powerhouses
Try to discover who the “informational powerhouses” are: those individuals who keep a finger on the pulse of what is going on in the organization, the industry, and the broader business environment. By knowing who to go to for historical data and emerging trends, you will find yourself empowered to make better business decisions more quickly.

b) Influencers
Listen for who the key people of influence are: those who have an enhanced ability to lead change and make things happen. They are not necessarily found in high-level or high profile positions, so pay attention to who holds influence regardless of their job title.
Notice which way influence flows in the relationships surrounding you in your new team. Is influence flowing in the traditional top-down manner? Are there people who are equally able to influence each other? Are there any of those rare individuals who have the ability to “manage upward” who are influencing their management?

c) Coalitions
Look out for groups of people who have formed groups that work together effectively, and are freely share information, resources, and opportunities. Ask yourself, “What do they have in common? What is the social glue that binds this group together?”  This will give you clues on how to work more effectively with those groups and individuals.
By taking time to build relationships, listen, and get "the lay of the land", you will pick up momentum and add value in your new role much more rapidly than if you spend all of your time mastering the technical aspects of your role.

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot was a guest speaker in the webinar, Are You The Invisible Employee?, part of the Emerging Women Leaders webinar series.

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