This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.
Starting a new job is a testing time for us all. First impressions that others form of you are crucial. This is called the primacy effect – first impressions create a significant and lasting impact.
It is also important you are perceived to be doing productive work from the start. In fact, make a point early on to do the things expected of you really energetically so the first impression you give is super efficient. If this means spending extra hours in the workplace or working at home after hours in the early days, then so be it.
The other smart thing to do in a new job is to engage in astute fact finding that will place you well for achieving good performance. This applies to any job, not just a communication role.
Politically, it is very smart to make a point of finding out who your key stakeholders are. Ask the advice of people you can trust. Start by asking the advice of the HR staff who are guiding you and setting you underway in a familiarization process. Ask them who are the most important people for you to meet first.
Obviously your boss is your immediate priority, but you can’t necessarily trust your boss totally because sometimes they will have their own political agenda relating to your appointment. Sometimes they may be intimidated by your appointment to some extent because you are a communication expert and although they supervise you, they may not have a communication background. Therefore, be prudent in your discussions with them and others in the early stages. Ask more than tell. Your boss can certainly nominate others to talk with.
New starters are often judged by the previous positions they have held. Prepare a 30-second ‘elevator pitch’ for yourself in relation to your previous positions and 2-3 of your key achievements. My article on developing an elevator pitch contains some useful advice on this. Some organizations are well known, but if you have previously been with some lower-profile organizations, mention their significance in their industry rather than just mentioning their name. This provides important context to your listener.
Attend as many relevant meetings of other departments as you can to gain extra visibility, the opportunity to underline the importance of communication and the chance to find out where communication could be effectively used to boost results in those departments.
If your organization has external consultants such as PR firms or ad agencies, you can ask their views about the best people to talk to internally. As third parties, those firms can be less biased than internal sources.
Interview senior management and operational managers to find out where their concerns are. This could be part of a communication audit. Rather than trying to push communication higher up on the agenda of senior management, it is far better for you to find out their key concerns so you can give some thought to communication solutions or part-solutions.
Carefully read briefing documents such as annual reports, business plans, operational reports, recent media coverage and documents such as executive committee minutes or divisional management reports. The organizational website and intranet will also provide important guidance about policies and priorities. Ask external suppliers their views of the organization and suggestions for areas of improvement. Frequently suppliers are privy to significant matters or have endured a very frustrating relationship with other staff or from woeful processes and so they can give you candid feedback. All this will give valuable insights into management’s strategic thinking and leads on how you can get involved in improvements and change.
A clever way to work out communication priorities is to examine the organization’s goal statements and business strategies. A review of the business strategies can reveal which would be most likely to produce the best lift in productivity (or efficiency in a public sector organization). If you can prioritize the goals in this way you can then review the top goals to decide which ones are likely to respond best to communication initiatives. You can reveal this in a matrix with one axis showing which goals or business strategies are likely to have the most financial impact, and the other axis showing the potential impact of communication activities in enabling each business strategy to be accomplished.
Conducting a communication audit is an excellent way to find out where better communication is needed. It also gives you the opportunity to interview stakeholders to find out their priorities and the extent to which they are switched on to the importance of communication. This process creates greater visibility for you with key stakeholders and with many others across the organization as well.
Speak to your boss and relevant other managers about how your performance will be measured so that you can focus on the things that will produce a good result in the performance evaluation process. Unfortunately, such evaluations don’t necessarily measure effectiveness in your job; they might just measure standard variables across the organization. Therefore, once you have covered off against those measured variables, you can also attend to the activities that really create results for the organization.
By Silvia Arto, Vice President of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, Chair of the European Regional
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