Making Onboarding Feel a Lot Less Like Work

I started the job at the advertising agency on June 20th, which puts us now at the 3rd week since my date of hire. So far, it’s been great learning about the world of advertising from one of the big institutions at the center of it all. During my first week, it was all about logistics. Our main team is made out of two companies and is spread out across two offices, one in Chicago and the other in New York, it took a bit of time learning about the internal processes involved. This main team is further broken down into various sub-teams: strategy/analysis/research, media planning and media buying. Within these sub-teams, employees are assigned to specific brands within a specific business unit.

Matrix organization
The team in New York is housed in my company’s main office, while here in Chicago, we’re housed in the other company’s office. Even the most basic contacts, such as the HR coordinator and payroll assistant in charge of my onboarding, were difficult to get ahold of. I wasn’t sure who to ask for my most basic questions about company policies, logins, and computer equipment access. For example, I can’t just be provided with a computer by the IT team at the office, since they technically work for the other company. I had to have somebody from my company in another office ship a computer to my location, and most of the setup turned out that way. When I hit these issues, I resorted to reaching out to the VP, one of the heads of my sub-team (strategy/analysis). Although there were a couple of steps between my position and hers, in the meantime, she took it upon herself to be in charge of my onboarding since there had been some restructuring in the mid-management level. I’ve only met her on the phone; she’s based in New York but had stayed on top of my updates and activities. Harvard Business Review published an article about onboarding on my first week of work, and while I ran into a few structural issues that could’ve been alleviated if HR got a few pointers from the article, my experience so far had been made wonderful by the warm welcome and accommodation they have shown me.

Work culture
The team here in Chicago has a great working culture. With a workplace comprised of mostly young and outgoing millenials and Gen Xers, everyone is smart and we do get things done. Advertising agency environments, probably draw visions of Mad Men glamour and scandal in most people’s minds, but here in the office, we work hard, are convivial and make sure we don’t forget to have fun. The company prides itself in focusing on the human experience to clients and consumers, and true to their mission, the company draws a distance from a steely, aggressive corporate culture, and drives itself toward a more collaborative and fun environment.

Lessons learned
While I’ve had experience in marketing, there’s still a lot to learn about the advertising agency environment in itself, beyond my job role. What I’ve learned so far:
– knowing the organizational structure and the unwritten rules of internal processes will make it easier to navigate the workplace
– reaching out to people both within and beyond your team is a great way to connect to colleagues and learn about parallel styles of work
– asking questions to seek information is a good thing, whether you’re a rookie or veteran

Action plan:
Looking forward, I plan to meet more people in my team and the office as a whole. We occupy three floors in the building and while I’ve met most of the people in my immediate team, I’ve met only a handful of people on the other floors. I also look forward to connecting more with the people in my team, in my department and those in other functions (media planning and buying). I’ve been on the quiet side these past few weeks, as I try to get more comfortable with the workplace culture. It seems that everyone at work is part of one big family, and being a new employee seems like you’re entering an intimate and exclusive circle. It is a bit intimidating, which is a natural emotion to feel, even if it’s unfounded when I take a step back and examine the situation. Everyone is in support of me, rooting for my success, and waiting for me to allow myself to open up. I know that when I let myself shine and express myself more, they’ll learn about me and we can then start being more collaborative. Lastly, I want to continue my ever-active streak of learning, constantly exposing myself to new ideas and critical thinking, as well as developing my reflective writing side. I agree with the advice of Professor Harry Kraemer of Northwestern University, who I met at a women’s leadership workshop, about the value of reflecting on your day-to-day, how your actions impact others and improvements you can undertake to develop yourself as a person. Being a naturally reflective and cerebral person, his advice resonates, and I see myself adhering to that as I craft a more conscious, fulfilling, balanced life.


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