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Take Ownership of Your Job Without Stepping on Toes
by Dr. Karen Otazo

Excerpted from “The Truth about Managing Your Career and Nothing but the Truth”

Forty years ago Robert Ardrey, writing about the “territorial imperative,” amazed readers by showing that humans are no less territorial than animals and birds when it comes to staking out our “turf.” We may not bite strangers, urinate on streetlamps or tunefully sing our claims to territory, and particularly not in the office, but we do like others to be clear who we are, what we know, and where our influence lies.

When starting a new job, it’s important that you sense out and claim your ‘territory’: the tasks, issues and decisions that you are responsible for, and the way in which you do them. However, in proving yourself, you must take care not to step on anyone else’s toes. This is a time for establishing working relationships with others, not making enemies. In any new job, there will be many other people who have been there longer then you, and who have a view about how things should be done. You need to find a balance between showing them respect, and convincing them to cede control to you so that you can make your mark.

A key first step is to get a sense of the organizational culture - the various collective habits that make up the way in which the company operates – and work to fit in with it. Do people chat while they are working or not? Do they go out to lunch, or do they eat at their desks? Do they visit others when they have a question, or send an email? When you notice how all these little things are done and follow suit you are less disruptive as a newcomer and less likely to provoke resentment.

Fill your calendar with meetings and conversations when you’re new, engaging with as many people as possible. Don’t expect others to come to you. Introduce yourself, and ask them questions about their role and their opinions on important matters. But wait until you have something concrete to discuss before you ask for time with very busy people, so that they don’t feel that you are wasting their time.

Some toes are more sensitive than others. There are two groups of people around whom you should tread particularly carefully: those who in any way consider your work part of their own territory, such as the person who held your job title, or worked up the project, before your arrival, and those directly below you in the hierarchy, who may feel that they know more than you, and maybe even have wanted your job. In both cases, make initial communication as neutral as possible. Ask these people open-ended questions, resisting the temptation to offer your own opinion unless requested. Treat them and their opinions with respect. Respecting an opinion does not mean that you have to follow it. You just need to take it into account.

As a new comer, you should always start from what is already there. Before you change things, listen to others and be gracious. No matter how much of an expert you are, and even if you’ve been brought in for your talents, you still need to make sure that you keep others in the loop, and respect their ways of doing things.

 
 

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