The secret engineer: hitting the ground running in a new role

new roleThe challenge of settling into a new role prompts our anonymous blogger to ponder the best way of getting newcomers up to speed

Having left Sleepy Hollow Electronics a couple of months back, I have now been parachuted into a new position that has required some learning on the job. Although it’s pretty standard fare, in so much as it’s been a case of “there’s the manuals, off you go”, this has led to some anxiety.

Apart from possible shades of “Imposter Syndrome” (the feeling that perhaps you’ve just been blagging it so far and are about to be found out) there comes with age an idea that there’s a certain level of expectation regarding one’s ability – a level of expectation that remains unfulfilled if you don’t get an awful lot of stuff out of the door. Considering the expectations you would have of a new starter yourself makes the truth of the matter reassuringly clearer, sadly though I find this doesn’t particularly help in actually dealing with it.

The central task can be tackled through two diametrically opposed strategies. The first is to make use of all the information online or in the help manuals, patiently sifting through them and turning yourself into an expert. The second is that when you hit a problem you go and ask someone else and make a note of what they do.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. By teaching yourself you learn with more depth, demonstrate an ability to exploit resources and solve problems on your own, and learn the “official correct way of doing things.” The disadvantages primarily centre around the time taken to complete tasks and the fact that you learn the “official correct way of doing things.”

By approaching others whenever you hit a snag you reduce the time needed to complete tasks dramatically and find the inevitable “get arounds” that every system needs to function properly, but you are unlikely to build an understanding of why particular processes or techniques are employed. You get the breadth of knowledge but not the depth. There are a couple of other factors in that you may give out the wrong message regarding your own abilities to problem solve and you take up the time of colleagues. They may or may not grow a tad jaded by your constant interruptions but either way you are stopping them from producing stuff themselves – which after all is what we are all getting paid to do.

Obviously then the answer is to find a middle path but judging where that lies is, I find, difficult. There’s so much to take on board, you’re conspicuously the new face and (if you’re like me) you are insecure enough to immediately want to create the impression of having some degree of competence. It should come as no surprise then that I suspect I naturally err on the side of “find out for yourself” a tad too much.

What I think is needed is a mentor. Someone who will be prepared with a thought-out path regarding the realities of the skill sets required for a specific position. Someone who pro-actively keeps an eye on the newbie(s) rather than the usual flustered bod who greets you with a mixture of relief and suspicion, fills you in on the basics and then lets you get on with it; only occasionally wandering over to nervously ask how you’re getting on.

Looking after newcomers always seems to be a duty allocated in an off-handed manner without much warning or forethought so imagine how it could be if one or two members of the office were given half a day’s training to prepare them and then allowed the time to develop a proper extended introductory package. Think of the potential for time saved, the reduction in stress and the efficiency to be gained from actively managing someone’s first couple of weeks (after all it need not be for any longer than that).

I find it difficult to believe that such an approach would be anything other than highly beneficial for both employer and employee.

PS Many thanks for the good wishes after the last article, it’s really appreciated.

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