Since I first began recruiting and managing teams, back in 2004, I’ve talked about “the dip” with every new person joining my teams.
Stealing just a touch from Run-DMC, it goes a little something like this:
“When you start a new job, it’s usually an exciting and positive time. Your mind is focussed on meeting new people, understanding a new team or company and looking forward to getting stuck into new challenges. There might well be nerves and insecurities too, which is a natural human reaction to such a major change.
It’s also a really valuable time because you’ll never have the opportunity to observe as an outsider again. There are very valuable insights that come from asking the questions that those on the inside miss because they blinded by familiarity. In some organisations I’ve worked in, institutionalised might be a good descriptor.
But what you should expect is that at some point, usually between two and eight weeks of being here, is that you’ll experience “the dip”. You might panic. You might experience feelings of regret. You might want to go back to your old job. You might be overwhelmed by your perception of what it would take to become effective in this role.
When, not if, this happens, I don’t want you to worry. I don’t want you to panic. I want you to share that it’s happening and we’ll work our way through it together.
So now you’re expecting it, please don’t be blindsided when it happens. I’ve seen it with most new team members over the years and it’s 100% normal.”
What’s really going on here is about levels of consciousness about personal competence. As your understanding about the needs and demands of a role grows as you begin working in it, you transition through stages of the conscious competence ladder.
Starting a role, there’s typically a high level of conscious competence. You know what you can do and you’ve got the job, so someone else must be confident in what you can do too.
But as you work your way into the role, your understanding of the role and what’s needed to be effective grows. And in some way or other, this’ll shift your perception of what you need to be competent in to be successful.
The extent of the intersection of your perception of your own competence and your newly acquired understanding of the needs of the role determines “the dip”. It can be a minor feeling of misalignment or something more than that. Or in other words, you’re becoming consciously incompetent in some areas.
It’s important to see this as a positive progression from being unconsciously incompetent on the ladder (“you don’t know what you don’t now), rather than being a regression from being consciously competent (“I don’t know if my skills are a good fit for this role”).
The other thing I often get people to consider at this stage is where they may be unconsciously competent and how this relates to the role. Most people underestimate their unconscious competence so some clear reflection on that can be useful too.
Looking back at October personally, I experienced “the dip” in the second week of October. A lack of energy, lack of motivation and a feeling of disengagement from things I’d normally find exciting hit me for a few days. Reflecting on why I felt like this and talking it through helped me work out how to deal with “the dip”.
For me it was about the scale and “newness” of the new role I’ve taken on. My current role is as COO in a rapidly expanding business that’s taking innovative approaches to our work and the way we operate. It’s not a traditional COO role in most ways and that’s a big part of why I wanted to do it.
But I recognise that I need to know what success looks like to be able to judge my own effectiveness in a role. I needed to take ownership of that and remind myself that the our success won’t be determined by reaching perfection in anything we do. Our success is about how effectively and quickly we identify problems, solve them and learn for the future.
Monday will be my 45th working day in the role. Looking at what’s changed at The Panoply and my role in those changes was a useful reminder for me of what I’ve learnt and delivered in that time.
With those insights I re-focussed some of my work priorities and within a few days began to feel more effective and being able to appreciate the impact I was having. I felt more engaged, excited and motivated at work once more.
October was another month of full-time home working. With London moving to tier 2 of the UK’s Covid-19 restrictions during the month, a planned day of meetings in London was cancelled. I spent a few hours in Deeson’s Canterbury office one day and it was nice to see some familiar faces that I hadn’t seen in many months.
It was great this month to work with colleagues to finalise an ambitious vision for where The Panoply wants to be in March 2023 – two and a half years away. Having set clear commercial goals previously, we wanted to have equally ambitious goals for our purpose and impact. We’ve focussed these on environment, people and the communities we work in. We’ll be targeting our work and reporting transparently on these areas to make sure they get the same focus as our commercial goals.
Early in the month I led a successful strategy and planning session with The Panoply central team to help us define our goals for the next six months and make sure we were prioritising them in line with our overall group goals and the needs of each of our companies. This helped us break down some of our longer term goals into more addressable shorter term actions, making sure everything we do is in service of those longer term goals.
This month I began working with a coach this month which has been a really interesting experience so far. I’m looking forward to seeing how that will help me continue to develop in my new role. I also took on a new mentoring commitment, helping a team member in one of our companies progress her career and tackle some of the challenges that new managers face. I’ve done this many times before, but this was a good reminder for me of how much personal satisfaction I get from this area of work.
My WFH revelation this month has been getting a wobble stool. Since the start of lockdown I’ve been working on my DIY standing desk, which is inside a repurposed Ikea cupboard. However I’d been struggling to stand up all day, so the wobble stool allows me to move around, stand for a while and then sit at different heights and angles. I much prefer it to standing all day or sitting in a traditional office chair.
So as we approach November and the likely national lockdown for England, I can look back at “the dip” as a normal part of my own progression in the new role and look forward to helping our companies and teams continue to deliver through the Covid-19 winter ahead.