What competencies are crucial to early success as you begin a new job?

Let’s examine a mini-case to identify one approach to achieving immediate credibility and making valuable contributions to the team.
Although he has only been with the civil engineering firm for four years, Hank is the most sought after catalytic team member out of dozens of engineers who are available for project work. He is viewed as an MVP of the department, or in this instance, the MVE (the Most Valuable Engineer). He has mastered many of the basic competencies necessary to be a desired team member and teammate early in his career! Team leaders seek Hank out to be a part of their projects. Why? Because he brings to the team an ability to engage positively with everyone. He understands and focuses on the overall team objectives, displays deep technical knowledge, and approaches problems with a seldom-seen level of curiosity and imagination.
Hank’s most recent project included surveying the site and establishing the building layout for a new bank branch at a high-visibility, high-volume intersection. The utility and traffic issues presented unique challenges to his team. Using the latest Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) technology he was able to cut the number of days for project completion by 15%, delivering nearly perfect solutions to the customer ahead of schedule. This innovative natureand speed of this project was noticed by the entire company—and, to be sure, by a very satisfied client as well.
Project team managers actually fight over Hank in staff meetings. They each want him on their team because he adds the most value, not only by being an all-around pleasant guy to work with, but because at his young age he consistently offers innovative and creative ideas that breed solutions to complex problems. He is candidly curious and probes new ideas with an enthusiasm that few others bring to the table. This curiosity is built on an exceptionally strong set of engineering skills honed at one of the top universities in the country and via a series of internships with top firms. This latter set of experiences is key. There is nothing better than securing real-world work experience while in college via multiple internships and relevant summer jobs. Walking into a new job ready to work and deliver results, even if on basic projects, brings immediate credibility and recognition early on.
Although this mini-case disguises identities, Hank is a young engineer in a real company. In our conversations with both Hank and his group manager they admitted that this feeding frenzy over having him on key teamsresulted in combination of amusement and pride. How could project managers make such a big fuss over having him, this young kid, on their team rather than any number of other more experienced engineers in the organization?
We discovered that the primary driver is his ability to view situations with a fresh perspective; to offer creative ideas in an energetic manner that piqued the interest of others. Not only does this young man have “the whole package” of personal and team skills, he is also able to punch above his weight and contribute beyond his experience level in offering innovative ideas to problems that may seem quite routine in the field. He is bold and unabashedly curious. He noted that his favorite questions include: “Why are we doing it this way?” “I see it differently. Can we look at it from a different angle for a minute?” “This may be a dumb question, but let me ask it anyway…”
In our field research regarding human catalysts, we identified the key skills and competencies needed to excel early-on in new roles. Through over 80 in-depth interviews with skilled professionals and leaders we identified four clusters of skills, aka Cornerstones, that are the foundation of effective catalytic leadership:
Building Credibility:  Behaviors essential for developing trust, communicating effectively, and generating belief in what can be achieved.
Creating Cohesion:  Behaviors that coalesce relationships and propel mission-oriented action.
Generating Momentum:  Behaviors that elevate and accelerate performance.
Amplifying Impact:  Behaviors that promote excellence and encourage innovation.
These behaviors work together to elevate team performance and positively impact the organization.  Specific definitions and descriptors of skills that underlie the Cornerstones are described in detail in the book, The Catalyst Effect, referenced below.  An individual who is new to a team, as Hank was in our mini-case, and who can master many / most of the Cornerstone skills will be able to jump start their performance. The major highlights of each Cornerstone have been described above. We look forward to exploring the competencies and behaviors that underlie each Cornerstone in more detail in our next several articles.


More information regarding the comprehensive set of catalytic practices, along with a self assessment can be found in the book, The Catalyst Effect: 12 Skills and Behaviors to Boost Your Impact and Elevate Team Performance, by Toomer, Caldwell, Weitzenkorn and Clark  (Emerald Publishing, 2018).

Originally posted June 8, 2018 by Psychology Today