Network Your Way Through New-Job Landmines

Last Updated Sep 25, 2008 1:35 PM EDT

You've probably seen this happen. A new boss comes into your group and, feeling empowered, starts making changes to the organization that any staff member could have told him or her would be disastrous -- if only they had been asked.

Many years ago I was promoted to editor-in-chief of a small local newspaper. My experience had been as a reporter with a fairly large publication, and I wasn't that long out of journalism school. In other words, I knew all the answers.

So I quickly went to work "improving" the small-town paper by introducing a new, more modern logo at the top of Page One, reducing the amount of space devoted to school sports, and spending much less time than the former editor in Rotary and other business-social functions.

I was wrong on all three decisions. Turns out subscribers to local papers--many of whom had read them for decades--don't much cotton to cosmetic changes to their familiar and trusted product. And less sports coverage? Parents love to see pictures of their kids in the paper--it becomes a lifelong memento. Sports events are where you are most likely to shoot those photos. Strike two. My personal decision not to schmooze with business leaders meant I wasn't tied into the invisible power structure that often drives small-town decision making and thus I was less effective in my job of organizing news coverage.

All this could have been avoided, of course, had I early in my tenure talked more to the staff and subscribers to learn the values of the newspaper and the community it served.

Network Your Way to Wisdom

So William C. Byham's recent Harvard Business Publishing blog on the importance of networking when you receive a promotion struck home. Here is what he has to say:
"If you've just been promoted or are about to move into a new job, it's imperative that you start talking to lots of people and make connections right away, so you can acquire crucial information about your new job and succeed early. If you don't, you might lack the facts you need for a proposal, for example, or you might bring up an idea you think is neat but has failed in the past."
Things to do right away, he says, are to figure out who needs to be in your new network, stick your neck out to make contact, and share as well as take with your network members. Read his insightful column for more tips.

Tell us your stories about clueless new bosses or your tale of tragedy upon taking a new position.

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.