New Job? Start Like a Jerk

25 Courageous Questions For Marketers in New Roles

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With nearly 50 million Americans changing jobs this year, the Great Resignation is quickly becoming the Great Migration. People aren’t simply starting new roles; they’re choosing new ways of working.

For marketers, changing jobs should be like launching an exciting new campaign. Instead, it feels like leaping from a ledge. Half of all new hires will fail, be fired or quit within 18 months. And advertising agencies maintain a 30% turnover rate, the highest out of all industries.

So why is it so hard to start a new job?

It’s rarely about intelligence. Emotion is the primary source of organizational truth, but also the least understood. Outdated hiring processes are better at showing employees how to fit in than how to cultivate trust, vulnerability and healthy conflict.

It’s a trap. The only way to kick butt in your new job without losing your sanity is to stop people-pleasing, start prioritizing and commit to being a JERK: a journalist, engineer, ringmaster and knight.

A JERK is a process, not a person. These four unique skill sets create bias-proof beginnings for sustained success:

SkillIntent
JournalistAsk irreversible questions.Understand context.
EngineerDesign ugly problems.Explore capability.
RingmasterLink actions to results.Test culture.
KnightPick big fights.Create clarity.

Journalist: Ask irreversible questions

Context is everything. The social and political data you need to succeed is locked in the minds of your new peers. Irreversible questions convert their knowledge into mutual understanding. 

Unleash potential solutions and accelerate learning by asking these open-ended questions:

  1. If done with excellence, what’s the one thing that would have the biggest impact?
  2. What competitor do you obsess over, and why?
  3. Why hasn’t more time, effort or energy changed the current situation?
  4. What are we in denial about? 
  5. How would you feel one year from now if things stayed the same?
  6. What obvious options are we ignoring because they seem unsafe or not smart?

Engineer: Design ugly problems

When learning new capabilities, it helps to borrow a page from engineers: Fall madly in love with ugly problems. If you’re last place, low quality, overpriced or misunderstood, own it. 

Inspect your team’s foundation with questions designed to find these structural problems:

  1. Who defines success and decides when it’s achieved?
  2. What prevents us from solving our biggest challenges now?
  3. When was the last time a leader admitted a mistake?
  4. How does your boss reward success and react to failure?
  5. How do you secure the resources, support and tools you need to win?
  6. Does your manager encourage you to rethink priorities and take risks?

Starting and staying at a new job is a must-have skill for marketers hoping to have a real impact. Invest less time in trying to impress your peers and, instead, become obsessed with learning from them. 

Ringmaster: Link actions to results

In the beginning, you can’t change a team’s culture, but you can harness it. Ringmasters let go of assumptions, embrace surprises and model actions worth emulating. Instead of big bets, start with micro-tests that translate theories into low-risk projects. This helps spotlight everyone’s results, not just your own.

Healthy beginnings are hard, but they don’t have to be uncommon. Tame your inner genius with these value-based questions:

  1. What happens when people cause conflict by speaking uncomfortable truths publicly?
  2. How safe is it to be yourself at this company? 
  3. What work are we doing because it worked in the past that now wastes time? 
  4. Are you having fun and enjoying what you’re doing most days?
  5. What does your ideal workweek look like? 
  6. Do you prioritize time for passions, mindfulness, physical activity, spirituality, etc.?

Knight: Pick big fights

Like knights, new leaders rise and fall based on their ability to pick the right fights and ignore the wrong ones. No one will do this for you. Fighting for focus isn’t fun or popular, but it’s a requirement for avoiding mediocrity. 

Ask yourself and your team these questions to help protect their focus and align your own:

  1. If you weren’t already doing it, would you apply for the job you have now?
  2. If you were me, what would you focus on?
  3. Where am I responsible for results outside my natural competencies?
  4. What tasks can only I do? 
  5. What do people come to me for that I’m best at?
  6. Is our best talent focused on the most important work?
  7. Am I the right person to create the conditions for future success in this role?

Starting and staying at a new job is a must-have skill for marketers hoping to have a real impact. After the celebratory high-fives and handshakes, invest less time in trying to impress your peers and, instead, become obsessed with learning from them. 

Ask irreversible questions like a journalist; design ugly problems like an engineer; link actions to results like a ringmaster; pick big fights like a knight. Start your job like a JERK and give others the courage to do the same.

This piece was published in the October 2022 issue of Adweek, as part of the Columnist Network series, which explores the tactical thoughts and actions from Adweek’s community of high-level experts. Read more here.

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