Use the probationary period to your advantage.
Getting a job can be difficult. But when you have landed one, no doubt you will be put through a probation period. In Australia, these probationary periods can last between 3-6 months (in some cases 12 months!).
During this time the employer is assessing whether they have made the right choice or not. Can you do the job? Do you fit in with the culture? Do you work well with the other employees? Am I paying you too much for your skill level. Did you lie about your abilities?
So naturally we will do anything to get through the probationary period, especially if it was difficult getting the job in the first place. We want to fit into the role and the culture. And this could mean we compromise on what we want from the role. There is sometimes this belief that you have to do anything it takes to get through the probationary period unscathed. We put on our best behaviour and stress ourselves out by saying yes to everything. But this thinking is completely wrong.
Why we have got it all wrong
We have been using the probation period the wrong way. While we do need to treat the organisation and employer with respect during the probationary period, we should also be using the time to learn everything we can about the new role and the organisation itself. In politics, leaders get judged on their first 100 days in office. People expect immediate change and rightly or wrongly, the first 100 days is how they measure the effectiveness of the
politician voted in.
Your employer is no different. They really do want you to hit the ground running and just get on with the job they've hired you for. And so you should. But we shouldn't be people pleasing either. Too often we sacrifice our dreams, beliefs, values and even our sanity just to have a job. Sometimes we simply have no choice and we have to take what we can get. I understand that. When you need to bring money in, then any job seems like a life line. It's a horrible position to be in. But regardless of your situation, you should still use the probationary period to your advantage.
Using Design thinking for a better role
The probationary period is your best opportunity to work out if you really want the job. While your employer has a legal clause to terminate your employment during the probation period with limited legal obligation on them, you also have a great opportunity to learn, define and formulate your ideal role or career path. As this one may not be it.
Three step approach – immersion, identification & implementation.
So while you are being paid, use a three step Design thinking approach in your new role — immersion, identification and implementation to work out if this role or career path really is the one that you want to be on.
Good companies have an induction program. If yours doesn't then design one for them. This is your chance to immerse yourself into what the company does. It's a great way to see where and how you fit into the bigger picture. Ask to spend some time (at least one day a week) over the next 2-3 weeks in different departments. But depending on the size of the company, it might not be entirely possible or feasible to immerse yourself in every department in the company.
So be strategic. Which departments directly effect your role? Moreover, who above you will be approving yours or your direct managers decisions? How can you work better with them to ensure your manager gets what he/she needs?
Immersion gives you the chance to not only see where you fit in overall but also enables you to establish relationships with other people in the organisation sooner than later. As these same people may also be the ones who will be ultimately making decisions that effects your work and position. Later on it will be a lot easier for you to talk to these people and negotiate a better outcome because you have already introduced yourself on a deeper level, rather than just a passing face with a name they have forgotten already.
Be an outsider looking in.
Don't forget your customers. Good companies ensure you go out and see your customers. Great companies organise for you to spend a day or two with them to see what they do firsthand. I still remember the first company that did this. I spent a two whole days out in a franchise office getting an understanding of what they did. It allowed me to use it as a way to validate my ideas or decisions based on what they do and needed day to day.
Walking a day in your customers shoes gives you invaluable insights into their workload and decision process. You cannot learn this any other way. Observing, talking to them, getting yours hands dirty and seeing your product in their environment is the best way to learn and know how they feel. Do they really want what you are selling them? Can you improve what you do and give them a better solution? What other products/services do they use? Does your new company sell those? So why aren't they buying them from you then?
In the immersion phase, observe and absorb everything you can. Be an outsider looking in. This will allow you to start seeing patterns and where the pieces fit.
The immersion phase allows you to identify not only the different key stakeholders and decision makers throughout the company, it also gives you a sense of where you fit in overall. How is your role viewed by other departments? Do they get it? Do they care? What position in the decision making process are you? Can you see some of the cultural, resource and financial weaknesses within the company? How will this affect your role? And your morale?
It's a good opportunity in this phase to converse with your employer (manager) and gauge how receptive they are to change, and how flexible your job description really is. Is it set in stone? Or is it a malleable position? How do they see the role?
Undeniably, you get more insight once you are in the role than you would've at the interview stage. But what did they tell you about the role? Is it the same story now? Or is it slightly different?
Always eat lunch in the break room.
The identification phase is your chance to conduct a good old fashion SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) on the company while you are on the inside. What looks good from the outside may not be all that good once you are in. So use the immersion phase to gain as much insight about your role and the company as you can. Discreetly though. Remember you are still being paid to do a job. So you will need to accumulate information as you go. Use your one day customer and department induction (immersion) time to learn as much as you.
Always eat lunch in the break room - Two of the best places to gain insights into the culture and heartbeat of any organisation is the kitchen and/or the break room (sometimes they are one and the same depending on the size of the organisation). A lot of people will let their guard down while they are making a cup of tea or eating their lunch. It's a great way to see how people greet you and include you in their conversations. Of course, if they are huddled in corners whispering away then this is never a good sign. So eat your lunch in the break room for at least the first 3-4 weeks, even if you have to buy your lunch, bring it back to the break room to eat it.
The last phase is where you design your ideal role. Using your SWOT analysis approach, determine if the role and organisation is everything you wanted and thought it was. What are the strengths? Where are the weaknesses? Are there any real opportunities for you to grow? i.e. 1) in your role? 2) within the company? What promotion opportunities are there? And who or what are the main threats to your position?
You may find at the end of this phase that the job isn't quite the role you thought it was. And worse, you may not be able to do anything about it as your employer isn't interested in changing it. (Note: this is something you gauged in the identification phase). So you will have to make a decision. Do I stay or do I go? By using a Design thinking approach you are defining what your ideal role looks like. If the role you landed doesn't resemble the role you want, then it might be time to move on.
A note: All jobs have areas that we really dislike. But that's not the exercise here. What we are looking for is those jobs that makes us bounce out of bed and want to get to work. Using this approach allows you to find your true purpose and calling in life and not just a job that pays the bills. This is not why we live.
I would recommend using the first 4 weeks for the immersion phase. This would depend on how many departments and customers you are able to see and immerse yourself in for a day or two. Then spend the next 4 weeks identifying the strengths and weakness (SWOT) about your role and the company. Then, 1-2 weeks designing your ideal role and defining your purpose or calling.
Presenting your ideal role
Generally, there is a review meeting at the end of the probationary period. This is where your employer tells you whether you get to keep the job or not. Sometimes though, the
probationary period drifts into a non-probationary period. So again, if there has been no feedback about your performance during the probationary period, request a meeting to discuss your role and your performance.
In the meeting, gain an understanding of how they saw your performance and how you fit into the role and company as a result. Invariably there will be a chance in the meeting where they will ask you how you found the last 3-6 months. This could be straight off the bat or later in the discussion. Be prepared either way. As this is your opportunity to outline everything you learnt during the immersion, identification and implementation phases. But don't be too negative or personal. Use extreme caution here.
Present any weaknesses as challenges but have a solution for each weakness/challenge on the table. Keep the discussion to your role. Do not talk about anyone else. Above all else, don't turn a favourable performance review into a detrimental outcome for you. Choose your timing and words carefully. Always stay or leave on your terms, not theirs.
Design thinking for a better career By designing your own induction program and immersing yourself in different departments and customer shoes shows to your employer that you are proactive and keen to learn. Taking initiative is never a bad thing. How they react to this initiative may tell you all you need to know about your employer.
If they are receptive to the idea of you immersing yourself in other departments and customer shoes, then you are on the right track (and company). If they aren't receptive, then you may not even have to go through the process. As this invariably gives you all the information you need about the company and its potential.
Essentially, the Design thinking approach is for you to decide whether the job is right for you or not. And if the career path you have chosen is the one you really want to be on. You don't have to share what you learnt at all but use it as a guide as to where you want to go next in your career. Find purpose. Live life to the fullest.