First, trust the instructions


The pop-up dental clinic is being set up in a high school in Memphis. Tarp laid and chairs set up.

One of my foodie friends enjoys reading the comment threads on recipes to read the responses from the recipe haters who swap out this for that and sub out a few more things they didn’t have on hand and angrily give a one star review to a recipe that bears no resemblance to the the one posted. A wiser person than me finally handed me the clear rule that I have now adopted, the first time you make something, just follow the instructions to have some idea of how it is supposed to go down.  Even respecting the instructions so much can change your outcome.  Using baking as an example, how hot is your oven really? How much moisture is in that flour that has been sitting in your dry as bone mid-winter house? You get the picture.

This was one of many lessons I had re-enforced when I went down to Memphis recently to fulfil a long held curiosity to help at a pop-up medical clinic put on by Remote Area Medical. I was in turn, fascinated and pushed to exhaustion by my minimal contribution to this clinic.

One of my firmly reenforced mantras was to first, seek to trust the instructions. What abetted this trust was understanding the reason behind the instructions and hearing it from such credible sources.

I was trained on-the-spot for a number of tasks in a clear, step-by-step fashion. These instructions might include things like the number of parts I was looking for and what order I would have to do them in. Perhaps most importantly, they would usually include the why behind the instructions. The job accurately billed as the worst of the day was to set-up 60 folding dental chairs. They were heavy and not entirely cooperative but could be made to stand just fine if you followed all the instructions. In one case we had to move the position of a central rod using a crank before we started other parts of the set up. If you did this in the wrong order, you’d have to redo the set up to correct. Horrors. In other cases we would sanitize an item and then leave some object in a particular place as a symbol that we had done all the required steps.

I generally follow rules and instructions so it wasn’t a hard sell to follow along and given that you have the background motivation that you want vulnerable people well served. That said, there were motivations to cut corners.  This work was exhausting with a small crew that had mostly been recruited to do actual medical work and it wasn’t the patient-facing work which many volunteers were likely hoping to do when they signed up.

What also helped was that I could fully and completely trust the source of the instructions.  My admiration for the RAM folks was very deep because it was evident that they had hammered out the design of the clinic thoughtfully and deliberately over time (they have done over 800 clinics).  Things are put away in a specific way so that they can be carried or hauled and so that it is clear what is in each bin. They tie off plastic bins to show that they are full with three complete settings for dental stations. No need to count, we can trust this.  Carrying cases are colour coded so they are directed to the right vehicles.

As a last observation, I can see now that I was also motivated to follow the instructions because I was continually surrounded by people who would help keep me on track if I was unsure as to how to go ahead- not choking micro-management but supportive access to supervision.  There was no need to wildly freelance to fill in the gaps.

Learn more about Remote Area Medical here.

See a 60 Minutes story on RAM here.


Advice I Wish Someone Had Given Me for My First Job

Advice I Wish Someone Had Given Me for My First Job.

This piece  has some good core information from a non-business focused blog,

Things I liked of note (that apply to the life of a career, not just your first job):

Be on time, stay organized and never miss a deadline

Of course exceptions exist for legitimate reasons but as a general rule, it’s a good guideline.  One unspoken reason is that you may have been delegated some “small potatoes” stuff for your your earliest tasks that are essentially tests to see if you can handle bigger stuff.  If these can’t be delivered on time, it’ll raise alarm bells. I’d also add that I have seen many new hires struggle with assignments that have no deadlines and these can be more deadly than missing deadlines for people who don’t tend to be closure driven.  Best advice is that you  try to negotiate a deadline for things for which no hard end date exists so that expectations are clear with everyone.

Pay attention to company culture

This is can be hugely important and yet really difficult to discern. Though you are always free to go against the grain of any company norms, you may want to be aware that you are doing so given the negative implications that may ensue.  If you suspect that it will be difficult to pick up on norms, you can always ask – e.g., Are those staff meetings considered mandatory?

Ask questions

I agree with this, though with a bit more caution than these authors propose.  As a manager, I am a fan of questions to some extent but much less so when the answer is discernible with minimal effort by the employee themselves.  By all means however, ensure that you clarify instructions to save time later and in the early days, ask more questions to understand the context of the particular culture in which you are working.

Don’t sabotage yourself in your new job – The Globe and Mail


Don’t sabotage yourself in your new job – The Globe and Mail.

A good exchange in this one which speaks about strategies that can be used when you are feeling overwhelmed at a new job.

Some suggestions include:

– Starting your new job on a Wednesday as it’s less overwhelming than having to get through a whole week.

– Getting an onboarding coach/mentor

– Seeking the assistance of the employee assistance program.

Five Tips for Your First Job – John Coleman – Harvard Business Review

Five Tips for Your First Job - John Coleman - Harvard Business Review

(c) Mike Burns

Five Tips for Your First Job – John Coleman – Harvard Business Review.

Though these tips are intended to people who land their first job ever, I find that they work as general tips for any new job.

1. Don’t “fake it until you make it.”

He suggests asking a lot of questions and I’d tend not to want to focus exclusively on that – read, be resourceful, re: tip #2 invite a colleauge to lunch so that they can talk about what they do.

2. Never eat lunch alone.

Love the way he puts this:

“Every single person you’ll work with in your new position — from the receptionist to the CEO — can teach you something valuable, and each of them can be a friend and mentor in your career.”

3. Set boundaries to prevent burnout.

This is a really important one – the learning curve is steep at the start and it is tempting to work late each night till you feel productive and “get it” but we must begin as we intend to continue.

4. Serve your colleagues and customers.

Classic tenets of servant leadership.

5. Work hard and show up on time.

The Inspirational Note Apple Gives to New Employees on Their First Day


The Inspirational Note Apple Gives to New Employees on Their First Day.

Ok, so I don’t know if this is an actual letter that Apple gives to its employees but I like  both the idea of the welcome letter and the sentiment expressed here so am reposting it.  Truth be told I like the idea of the welcome much letter better than just leaving a copy of the vision/mission statement for new recruits.

I used to work in a branch where we used a welcome letter as part of our orientation package.  It was a standard letter signed by the top executive and it laid out, in general terms, the work of the branch and other key information including its commitment to diversity and the use of both official languages and it went over really well.

Though the welcome letter  can’t and shouldn’t replace a fulsome information package and the importance of human contact with employees on their first days, it is a nice touch to be sure.