Two of dragonchild's comments reminded me of some of my grandfather's articles for the journal Chemical Technology from 1972-73, as a series called 'Survival Manual for Technologists')
Here's part of the 'new employee' advice: (the full set is over 12 pages, and I don't know what all of the reprint rules are for the journal, so these are just excerpts from the articles)
Phase II--Orientation in your new job
Procedures for orientation of the new employee vary from company to company, but almost all new people fail to see the possibilities available to them. First impressions are indeed important and can influence your entire career wit the company, but not in the usual way.
Most companies content themselves with handing the new man a copy of the company policy manual, showing him where the washroom is, and escorting him to his office, concluding with a hearty "Good luck" or "Glad to have you aboard." The new man is then expected to mesh with the corporate machinery, performing his function without being completely visible.
Here and there the orientation may be a bit more thorough. The employee is not provided any additiona information but the representative of the 5:15 Commuters' Club, Lunch-at-Harry's Group, or Car Pool, takes the trouble to size him up, just to get some idea of how strong a competitor he is likely to be. A casual "He seems like a nice guy," permits a lot of men to breathe easier, while "He seems pretty sharp to me!" could mean trouble for all concerned.
So, your principal objective during the orientation period is to convince your guide, and anyone else you may encounter, that you aren't a threat to anybody. Note that this is just the opposite of what the typical new employee does, whoe mistakes making a strong impression for a good impression. The best first impression to make is a weak one.
The method selected must depend on the individual, as it would be transparent if a football star adopted the approach of physical timidity. One technique that will work reasonably well in most circumstances is the use of chichés, the more common the better. For a parting comment, after food fortune has been asked to smile upon you, say something like, "I really have been looking forward to this opportunity; I sure hope I can make the team!" It will be some time before anyone will consider you so strong a competitor as to require after that profound comment. This is not to say that this period should not be used to establish yourself as a man to be reckoned with, only that this strength should be restricted to personal, selfish things that others can understand. In effect, it transfers the competition from the serious to the minor but delightful tugs-of-war that make corporate life interesting. For example, at some point during this tour, you will be shown to your office, even if it is nothing more than a desk surrounded by columns and files of similar desks. Depending on the opulence or Spartan nature of the surroundings, it will be shown to you with pride or with a certain tone of apology, but nevertheless, your reply must be exactly the same. After looking around silently for precisely 45 seconds, you smile and say, "Well, it will do for now." No emphasis on the "for now"--just a casual comment.
Contrast the elegence of that remark with the man who says, "Boy, the first thing I'm going to do is get those impressionistic paintings off the wall; I don't understand them anyhow. And that sofa has to go; I don't want anbody getting any funny ideas!"
Of course, during these first days you will want to look around and learn as much about the company as possible. However, in addition to the standard things of who is who and who does what, there is a less obvious objective. You want to discover the unstated by extremely important "ground rules" of the company--which attitudes are valued in the company and which are not. You may find that even some types of failures, such as major disasters, command a certain respect rather than disapproval.
Unless you do this consciously and carefully, you will tend to carry over your conditioning from your previous job, or if this is your first employment, your attitudes from home and school. It may be a shock to learn how this vital factor differs from company to company. For example, in one company the impression of hard work, real or imagined, may be rated a supreme virtue, while elsewhere is it regarded as ridiculous. Everone here hows that business is done on the golf course or in good restaurants; it is high-level contacts, with appropriate name dropping, that really counts. Whatever it is, adopt and cultivate it. If it fits in with your natural inclinations, so much the better, but in any case, from now on you are an enthusiastic practitioner and supporter of these qualities. This is no minor task, and must be given the attention it disserves. It is not enough to accept what people say the criteria for success are; you must examine past promotions to determine what the rules really are.
Carl Pacifico, 'Survival Manual for Technologists: Part II', Chemical Technology, vol.2, pp.340-2, June 1972.
In our first installment (CHEMTECH, June 1972, 340) we talked about getting and starting THE job. Now let's turn attention to handling it, which includes relationships with your colleagues. Later, we'll talk about bosses, including being one.
A job is a vehicle to income and a way to pass the time pleasantly. Our techniques for dealing with your job all derive from this fundamental principle.
Most new employees stumble immediately into an important mistake: they try to find out what they are expected to do. Even brief reflection will shouw that if you do not know what your duties are, you have a reasonably good defense against criticism that you did not do them.
Actually, there is more to this arrangement than may be obvious. The converse is equally important; this is, if your boss really wanted you to know your duties, he would tell you. But then he would lose the advantage of being able to complain about failures that weren't your fault anyway. Now, you wouldn't want to spoil such a mutually benificial arrangement the very first day on your new job, do you? Besides, you'll soon pick up enough information by trial-and-error to know what minimum performance is acceptable.
Similarly, keep the boundries of your duties with other departments unclear. You can then avoid any problems that touch on that general area by pointing out that you thought it was the other fellow's territory, and of course you wouldn't be so inconsiderate as to step on his toes.
Relations with colleagues
Colleagues must be recognized as competitors, and thus potential obstacles to your advancement. Many of these colleagues, regardless of their qualifications, will themselves be seeking advancement, which, if attained, will reduce your opportunities. A lesser man might succumb to the temptation to interfere with their progress. This not only involves risk, but lacks elegance. The proper approach mught be called organizational jujitsu; that is, these colleagues will be exercizing some force toward their advancement. You must learn to use their own momentum to help them on their way, but in the wrong direction, of course.
It hardly needs noting that you will never take any action that benefits a colleague more than it does you. The only counsel here is that you must always convey the impression of being eager to help. Only, somehow or other you always fumble the project; sending information too late, attaching the wrong enclosures, supplying ambiguous data that encourage misinterpretation, offering volumes of irrelevant references, etc. By varying the specifics, you can repeat this technique indefinately. Often you will be mistake for a staunch friend, or at worst a well-meaning bungler.
Of course, you will only tell people what they want to hear. That helps block out the correct information that might help them avoid the bad decision. (See the analogy to jujitsu? You only help him along the way he was going anyway.) Similarly, never alert anyone to a developing problem. No point in upsetting people in advance, and besides, they may prevent it, which takes away a lot of the fun of having a ringside seat at the disaster
Carl Pacifico, 'Survival Manual for Technologists: Part II', Chemical Technology, vol.2, pp.587-9, Oct 1972.
(all typos, etc, are my fault, and not from the original article)
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