The rules of transitioning

Tuesday 29 September 2020

Adrian Furnham

Many investment professionals will be moving to new roles while working from home. They will have to work harder to stand out from the crowd, says Adrian Furnham

Many people are going to experience Covid-19-inspired career transitioning. They will find new jobs, perhaps even whole new careers. This is not an easy task, or an easy prospect for the middle-aged middle-brow, middle manager.

But assuming you have, or will, be successful. Then what? The first thing you should learn is the value of time, so what you need is an A4, 750-word summary of your plan.

But there is an added complication. What if you are expected to work from home; never or very rarely go into the office? It is likely that for the foreseeable future new-hires will work remotely. This makes the whole business of learning the ropes much more difficult.

So here are the seven steps to the stars.

Know the corporate culture: This is about making sense of, decoding and following the unwritten rules and etiquette of the workplace. Start by asking someone to tell you the history of the organisation and the department you are working in. Equally important is hearing the stories, sagas and myths about past (and present) managers. Who are the heroes and who are the villains?

Read all the company information that is on-line. Connect with some 'old-hands' and get them to tell you their stories of working there. Express enough interest, and you could glean a great deal.

Company culture dictates everything: time keeping, dress sense, politically correct terminology, and who really hold the power. Watch and copy. Note whether virtual meetings start on time; who talks and who doesn’t; and even the background of where they are sitting

Act fascinated about what is going on, whether you are or not. Accept invitations for a virtual drink after work. Remember you are an anthropologist with an undiscovered tribe. They think what they do is normal, healthy and adaptive: do not deceive them. Learn the rules quickly. If there is any opportunity to meet face-to-face or go into the office, take it.

Explore expectations and ask for feedback: Observe, in particular to what is said about the company’s vision and values. Be very receptive when given feedback of any sort about these issues. Find out what they expect of you or your role that was not said at the interview or in the advertisement. Often support staff know the most out of anyone. Always befriend them.

Ask to be emailed background stuff: study the tone and the language, especially often used words and any typos. They can say a lot about corporate values.

Listen carefully when the brand is discussed, and any future strategy is mentioned. Don’t be afraid to make the odd point: it shows you are listening and have your own mind. But be upbeat and positive. Show them all you are committed to the organisation.

In any virtual meeting say a few things: let people see who you are. It is thin line between being thought as arrogant, too assertive or pushy, and making people aware of your presence. So prepare a few questions for each meeting.

Do serious networking: You need a map of who’s who; who holds power and influence and who will be most useful to you. Job titles and the organogram are poor indicators of real power and influence. Start mapping your environment. It is called social network analysis but all you need is a good eye and ear. Never underestimate the power of IT, HR and security…they can make your life hell if you rub them up the wrong way.

Ask for a meeting with HR and get the chart/organogram. Arrange meetings with support staff to get background information. They usually know where the bodies are buried and can give series tips on dealing with the powerful 'grown-ups'

Unfortunately, in a post-Covid-19 world, there are no longer those elevator and water-cooler moments to introduce yourself. But prepare a virtual equivalent. Know your elevator pitch of who you are and where you come from. Build relationships by finding out what you have in common with people and how you might be able to help them. Accept all social invitations. Get to be known as a team-player.

Start an early strategic plan: Think carefully about what you bring to the party and what you can offer. Get below the surface with respect to how the organisation runs. Find out what is really important and what is not. Note the people who might aid or block your promotion. Find out how long it usually takes to promotion and what sorts of things help that process.

Think about where you best fit in. Beware a hostile element. You may not be uniformly welcomed and subject to jealousy and resentment if your predecessor was much loved or your colleagues were passed over for your job. Be alert to those who try to bend your ear to their backstabbing or request your support for their pet projects early on. Their intentions may be sincere, the consequences for you damaging.

Prioritise actions and stick to them:Make sure you understand what really is important and what is not. All the old maxims are true: don’t sweat the small stuff, and beware the tyranny of the urgent. Understand the core of your job and important current projects. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification in the first month.

You want early wins and publicity for them. You need visibility and to be regarded as someone who brings value to the organisation. You want to be seen as a good selection decision, a person with focus and ability.

Work on your team:Get to know your team as individuals. Ask each their life story and experience in the company. Listen to them and tell them your story. In the early days be very available. Recognise their expertise and what they like about the organisation. Let them know you are happy to help with things you like doing and are good at proofreading, statistical analysis, report writing, slide design, whatever it may happen to be.

Don’t be frightened of conflict and start having short meetings with a clear agenda. Try never to have meetings without an agenda, and someone sending a summary.

Try over the first 100 days to get the tough-but-fair reputation more than that of only warm and supportive. The best thing is to be knowledgeable, reliable and honest. Find out who is most influential and whom you can trust the most.

Be upbeat, energetic and positive at all times: This can be quite tough as all this new learning is exhausting. Watch David Attenborough on the TV. He is animated, enthusiastic and clear. He should be the model for virtual meetings.

Always prepare for meetings. Never appear bored or passive. Listen to, and echo, the sentiments of the team on business and related issues.

So what do the 'grown-ups' want from you? They want to know three things. First, are you a good communicator? Can you be assertive without being rude or arrogant? Can you persuade people with clear arguments? Are you sociable and able to form and maintain healthy relationships? Can you articulate a clear argument? Can you manage up, down and out?

Second, do you have energy and drive? This means getting things done, being pro-active, being determined to improve performance. It means being fit, positive and up for anything. It means the 'can do' attitude; the real desire to improve things; and the competitiveness to be successful. In the virtual world people can’t see how hard (or otherwise) you are working so always 'over-deliver' at the beginning.

Third, they want a strategic thinker. Do you understand the business? Have you mastered the brief? Are you 'on side' and someone who can, in due course, sit at the top table? Do you speak their language? Are you 'one of us'? If you are a little introverted and inexperienced in front of the camera get some help: it is important.

Being the new kid on the block is seriously demanding, even more so in Covid times. The way you play it makes all the difference to your acceptance, integration and career prospects. Good luck!


Adrian FurnhamAdrian Furnham is the Principal Behavioural Psychologist at Stamford Associates in London, and author of several books on behavioural psychology.









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