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Career change seeds

Plant now, but expect to work hard on growth

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I'm not sure I truly believe it, but the weather specialist has promised spring has finally sprung! Yes, I can see a few buds on the trees and I know the geese and many of our favourite birds are finding their way back, but I question, "is spring really here?"

As you know, spring is typically seen as a time for new growth, rebirth and new beginnings. For instance, those gardeners among us are restless and eager to get their new plants into the soil and to start making the changes they believe will add to summer beauty. Yet, at the same time from a work perspective, I know there are also many employees who experience a similar restless feeling at this time of year. Their restlessness is all about a strong intuitive sense that it's time to harvest the skills and experience gained from their current work and to continue growing their skill "seeds" in a new environment.

However, starting a new job in a new organizational culture requires more work than meets the eye and, in fact, spring will be long over by the time you feel comfortable in your new role. Just as with gardening, planting the seed is only a small part of the work required for success.

In other words, there is a lot more to making a job change than most employees consider. For instance, a recent survey identified that learning new work-related processes, technology and tools was the biggest concern or challenge employees experienced when starting a new job. This was followed by the issue of fitting into a new corporate culture and getting to know one's new boss and co-workers.

I've also coached many an individual who took on a new job only to find that the job was not as it was described. Of course, heavy disappointment arises with the new employee and if they cannot overcome their initial feelings, their success will be limited. With this in mind, the following tips should help individuals make their job change successful.

Be certain -- if you are currently feeling very restless about your job, double check yourself as perhaps it's simply spring fever! Take time to document areas of discontent in your current job and determine if it's really of value to make a change. Be sure to identify which personal motivators are not being met with your current job. Then, try to make changes in your current job before jumping ship.

Read the fine print -- many employers look at their own organization and their jobs with those proverbial, rose-coloured glasses. The result is they may inadvertently provide misleading information with respect to your prospective job. Do your homework, read the fine print. Ask a lot of questions, take a tour and ask to meet potential colleagues; do everything you can to get a strong sense of what your new job is all about.

Expect anxiety -- any change in one's life and job triggers change-management issues. As you move into your new role, you'll be surprised at the sense of loss you will still experience. Be prepared and accept that at the very minimum, your first 90 days will be stressful. Recognize your stress symptoms and deal with it.

Listen and learn -- every new job has a learning curve and in this case, it's important that you listen more than you talk. Be careful to avoid comparing your former job tasks with your new one and especially avoid providing unwanted advice so early in your tenure. To do otherwise might label you as an insensitive "know it all" kind of person, not the image that you want to create.

Be culture-wise -- every organization has its own informal rules and ways in which things are done. Put on your observation cap and pay attention to all of the behaviour around you. Identify who talks to whom, what the communication is like, where the power brokers appear to be and who has influence. Be careful not to be so quick to join any particular clique; stand back until you understand what's what and then slowly become part of the internal network.

Ask questions -- being a new employee is your opportunity to ask as many questions as you need in order to bring about a full understanding of your new environment. Be sure your questions seek the rationale behind decisions so that you understand how and why things work. Ask about the history behind the culture, ask how changes are made in the organization, take note of all the responses, listen and learn.

Become an information junkie -- put on your investigative hat and try to learn as much as you can about your job and the organization. Ask to read completed reports, minute meetings, magazines, policy manuals, marketing materials and anything else that'll help you to more quickly understand the organization and your job. Review the organization chart, the job descriptions in your new department. Become an information junkie.

Conduct informational interviews -- when possible, ask to interview your new boss and inquire about their career path in the company, what motivates them, and how they like to work. Get a confirmation of your first year objectives, when performance reviews are conducted and what is expected of you. Where possible, interview other managers and colleagues in order to continue getting the lay of the land.

Deal with resistance -- when you're the new person in the workplace, you may find that some of your new colleagues might not welcome you with open arms. There could be many reasons for this but do not take it personally. Be sure to understand your own roles and responsibilities and stick to this. Politics is found in any organization, so speak to your manager about any resistance and ask for ideas on how to gracefully overcome this obstacle. Keep in mind that relationship building takes time and don't rush to judgment.

Set personal targets -- it is normal in any change situation to require a minimum of one year before you are really comfortable in a new job. Keep the change-management cycle in mind as you move toward building comfort. Set the goal of reviewing your progress every three months. Identify achievements and areas of challenge. Brainstorm what you can do personally to build comfort and ask for help when you need it.

While I've compared changing a job to spring gardening, becoming fully oriented to a new work environment and new responsibilities can go beyond a one year growing season and requires a good deal of work and personal adjustment. Therefore, once you have planted the seed, be diligent in setting and managing your own orientation plan.

Source: learning the ropes biggest challenge in new jobs, Canadian HR Reporter, February 11, 2013.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP. M.Ed. is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 11, 2013 H1

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