Workplace Doctor: New employee needs showing how job is done

A new recruit is struggling to get up to speed in an IT role. So who should he approach to show him the ropes?

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I have joined a new IT company where the pace of the workflow is pretty fast. In fact it seems so fast that no one has any time to show me the ropes. How can I get up to speed on my job without appearing to bother the staff around me with constant questions? PA, Abu Dhabi

This is a surprisingly common problem, and one which shows the employing company in a pretty poor light, in my view. One of the last things we want to do in a new company, or even in a new role within our current company, is to look needy or dependent on others. But at the same time we don’t want to make mistakes that to others will look avoidable, just because we don’t yet know our way around. I am assuming from what you say that this is a service company with clients, so as with all service providers, getting up to speed fast really is mission critical.

There are two ways forward – the formal and the informal. The formal route means asking your line manager or your HR manager for details of your induction programme. High-performing companies, aware of the issue you raise, are careful to induct newcomers properly so that they can contribute as quickly as possible. It’s about maximising both willingness and ability: you are clearly willing to contribute and keen to do so, but until you are actually able to do the job for which you have been employed, then your contribution will be artificially limited. So it is the organisation’s job – and it is obviously in its best interests – to get your ability level up as quickly as possible. I am not talking technical ability here, but local knowledge. How do they do this? By showing you the ropes, so that you understand how they want things done. You can then add to your technical competence (which is why they employed you in the first place) this necessary local knowledge.

I’d be disappointed in any organisation that didn’t have this sort of induction as part of its standard operating procedure, as the immediate benefits are so obvious. But let’s assume for a moment that there really is no formally supported induction programme or buddy scheme. If there is no such programme, then the need for you to get that local knowledge doesn’t go away. It simply becomes your responsibility to source it. Put aside your growing suspicion that you may have made a dreadful error in accepting this job, suspend judgement and be prepared to take some action yourself. Go the informal route. Don’t just blunder around “learning by doing”. That approach may work when you’re self-assembling furniture, but it is a little more dangerous in the workplace, especially in a service provider.

Instead, ask for someone to become your mentor. This individual can share their local knowledge with you, from the best coffee station to how to fill in expenses forms, via the preferred approach to the job you’ve been hired to do – things like time sheets, contact call protocols, dress code, target response times … all the things you need to know if you are to be able to do your job to the best of your ability.

You need an informed, experienced individual who can get you swiftly up to speed and maximise your ability to contribute. It won’t take that person long, assuming you’re reasonably smart and quick on the uptake. Who in the group seems to you to have a generous nature? Is there anyone with whom you have bonded? They are the ones to approach.

You can also do plenty to help yourself. Pay attention – how are things done? Pick out the achievers in the group. Listen to them and watch them carefully. Emulate them and you are at least basing what you do on your perception of best practice within the group.

The other big thing to understand is customer expectations. What do the customers want, expect or demand from the company? You really do need to deliver against these criteria right from the start, especially if your company is involved in hardware or software installation on the client’s site, with all the disruption and upheaval that can involve. So here you really should be able to look to the formal processes of your company. There should be some clear, agreed and published guidelines about forward-facing work. You need to get hold of these quickly and read them carefully before you set foot on client premises and end up with that same foot in your own mouth.

Roger Delves, director of the Ashridge Masters in Management at Ashridge Business School, is an expert on authentic leadership, organisational politics and iterated relationships. He is also co-author of The Top 50 Management Dilemmas: Fast solutions to Everyday Challenges published last year. Email him at for the Workplace Doctor’s advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague

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