Navigating the Culture at Your New Place: Advice to Take or Leave

Look at me! Two blog posts! Two weeks! Yippee!

OK, I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who has been in her job for four years now but even for me sometimes it still feels new or there are things about the culture here that I learn or unearth that make me go “Hmmmmm.”

I got the idea for this post because I have a new colleague on campus whom I adore and we sort of had this conversation in a rushed way after a meeting yesterday. So I thought I would write it out and share. I’ve narrowed it down to ten things. These are not in any order other than the way they plopped out of my head. Back when I was new, some of these I did well, some of them not so much.

We often think our workplace cultures are unique. But I work in academia and one thing I know about academia is we all kind of have the same issues. So I hope this works for you and if it doesn’t, oh well (as my grandmother always says).

  1. Take Notes. Lots of them. Meeting notes, notes about people. People’s names (I am terrible at names). Details about them so that you build relationships. Look interested. In one on one meetings, it’s better to do this with pencil and paper because I’ve found that taking notes in this setting is off putting to a lot of people.
  2. Try to Just Observe. So this one is/was really hard for me. I wanted to jump in and change things. I think it’s really wise that for some amount of time you just soak it in. Learn which meetings are most productive, who talks a lot, who has the most substance. Listening will help you learn *who* in the organization is going to listen to you. And who is going to be the person you learn from.
  3. Find the Do-Ers. Every place has the people, just like you, who will get shit done. Find them. They can help you figure out how to get *your* shit done.
  4. Don’t Be the Favorite. Or rather, if you are the favorite, be everyone’s favorite. It’s much easier than just being the boss’s favorite. If you got brought in to change a culture or do something differently or have big ideas, being the boss’s favorite will be hard. That’s truth.
  5. Build a Circle of Trust. This circle should be people outside of your department/building. You want fresh ideas on problems. People who can talk through issues with you. And people who will go out and have cheese for dinner with you (just me?)
  6. Go to Lunch. Buy a lot of Coffee. Socialize. Talk to people. Get their take on what the biggest needs are and what their advice is.
  7. For the Love of All Things Good, Don’t Start Every Sentence With “Well, back at my last place” or Any Variation of That. We all do it. Try not to do it constantly.
  8. Ask for Help. If you’re stuck and not getting stuff done, ask for help. Ask your boss or your people in your circle. But, no one will ever know that you are struggling unless you let people help you by telling them you need assistance.
  9. Find the Other New(ish) People: Figuring it out together is much more fun.
  10. You Won’t Change the World or Your Culture At All Once or Even Quickly so Get Over That: Seriously. Change is like a ten year plan. (Sorry!)

Above all, I think it’s really easy to fall into the trap of being the bull in a china shop when you’re new. Sometimes that’s OK. It’s probably more OK for a man than a woman (Yes I said that, I’ve lived that, and I mean that.) I probably have a million other thoughts on this topic but who has the attention span or time to read that? 🙂

Want my feedback on something specific? Always happy to help when I can. Tweet me and ask!




One thought on “Navigating the Culture at Your New Place: Advice to Take or Leave

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *