I still remember being hired by Comcast back when they were beginning the process of moving 1.5 million broadband subscribers from a third-party network to their own network. The project was called “Jumpstart.” I was in on the “ground floor,” so to speak. Up to that point in my career I had been, what I verbalized a few times, “a manufacturing guy.” Meaning that manufacturing is what I knew, and I was pretty much planning to be in manufacturing the rest of my career.
After moving across the country to accept a promotion to Vice President of Operations for Brooks Instrument, at the time a division of Emerson, and after two years having the position not work out, I was back on the market. Through a connection at my church, I was able to land a senior operations leadership position with Comcast. Despite having a relevant degree (Computer Information Systems), I had never worked in the telecommunications industry. Here a “manufacturing guy” was moving into telecommunications.
One thing I always recommend to people starting in a new role/new organization is to take an “eyes and ears open, mouth shut” approach. By this I mean, don’t be too quick to make suggestions and try to solve problems. There are lots of reasons things are the way they are. You need time to learn the culture, history, industry (or ministry), etc. before you start making suggestions. If you start trying to be the “answer man” too soon, your suggestions may be met with lots of “We’ve already tried that.” or “That’s a dumb idea.” push back. Know what I mean?
Many times I find that people in the organization already know what the solution to the problem is, or at least they have suggestions. I’ve found myself saying, “I know what needs to be done, I just haven’t had the time to do it.” Regardless, be sure to “involve” the right people in the process of investigation and determination of what should be done.
When I went to work for Comcast, not knowing anything about the industry, I had to take this approach. I remember telling my new boss not to expect too much from me for a few months while I kept my eyes and ears open and mouth shut. I told him that I needed to learn as much as possible about wide area network infrastructure and how broadband internet was delivered to millions of subscribers. He was very understanding and recommended a few books to help me get up to speed. I sat through many senior leadership meetings, literally not speaking unless spoken to. When I got comfortable and began to see a few areas where the experience I had in manufacturing could be brought to bear on this new industry, with a whole new set of challenges, I began to speak up. I always led with lots of questions, though.
Do yourself a favor, benefit from my experience. In my observation, the ones who ask lots of questions and are slower to begin offering “solutions” are, in the long run, the most successful.