Moving Forward by Looking Back

Moving Forward by Looking Back

You have been in your new job for a few months now. You are starting to settle in and are feeling comfortable. You are eager to make more of an impact and you have some ideas you want to put forward. Before you rush ahead, be certain you do the necessary homework.

You researched the organization and its staff before you interviewed for the job. Now that you have some first-hand experience, dig a little deeper. You probably have legitimate access to reports that were not available to you as an outsider. If possible, read the current and one or two previous strategic plans. Look at what strategies were—and were not—achieved. Check out past organizational charts. What has changed, and what has remained the same. Are the minutes of the meetings of the Board of Directors available to staff? If so, they may be useful for understanding what types of change are encouraged and what are considered sticking points.

If you have a specific project in mind, check the files left behind by the person who held your position before you. If that person is still working at the organization, see if you can arrange an interview to gain some perspective, especially if a project like the one you want to attempt failed in the past.

It is always good procedure to briefly float your idea with your supervisor. Her or his immediate response will give you some important clues. If she tells you not to “waste your time on that project,” you probably need to rethink it. Whatever you do, don’t try to convince her of the value of your project before you have a full understanding of it and the difficulty it might require. Also, talk with coworkers to get their input regarding the organization’s willingness to accept change and to understand some of the stumbling blocks they have faced with their own past efforts.

Two of the most frustrating challenges a new employee faces are the statements: 1) “We’ve always done it this way,” and 2) “We tried that and it didn’t work.” To avoid these formidable obstacles, you need to become an expert on your topic, including the relevant organizational history. You need to be able to point to the differences and improvements of your proposed project over a past project. You also need a compelling argument to explain why now is a good time to try it again.

It’s difficult to care much about history when moving forward is what’s exciting and challenging.  At the same time, many, many new ideas fall flat. To avoid failure, include past efforts and organizational history in your data gathering. It may not shape your planning, but it may give you a different and stronger starting point.


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