Whether you’re starting a new job, a new position or just a new project, it can be overwhelming figuring out where to begin. How could you possibly know everything you need to know to get this right? Even if you’re an old hat at your current position, a new project that pushes you out of your comfort zone can be daunting (but exciting, right?).

So here’s the key. Are you ready? Shut up and listen.

Nothing could be more important to successful completion of your new mission than information. You’re correct if you’re worried that you don’t have all the information you need. Hint, you’ll never have it all, that’s what makes this so exciting! But you can get more than you have today, probably a lot more if you dig. Start here first:

  • Your immediate team – Who on your team just knows stuff? Talk to them, get their take. Don’t just ask surface questions about how things work, dig harder–why is it this way? Has anyone tried to change it? Why not another way? What else should I know about this? And finally, who else here has information that could help me?
  • Sales team – This group of people couldn’t be more important to pretty much any task you’re trying to accomplish in any company, particularly for marketing. No one knows the customer better. No one knows the challenges your company faces in the marketplace better. And in my experience, no group is more willing to share their thoughts and expertise. Plus buy-in and cooperation with your sales team will make you a far more effective marketer. Period.
  • Customers – Whenever possible, go straight to the horse’s mouth. Sometimes corporate culture can create what I call the “market fairy tale,” the internal story that you hear over and over about what customers think. It usually happens because one anecdotal story gets told and repeated throughout the organization. And then suddenly, this becomes a false truth applied to the entire marketplace. Talking with customers and prospects, will give you first-hand insight you can’t get elsewhere.
  • Your data – Listen to your numbers. They tell a story like none other. Just as a market fairy tale can happen anecdotally, so can untruths about what’s working, what’s not and which clients are profitable and which are not. Data is your friend. Don’t leave him hanging.
  • The inter-webs – There is oh-so-much info out there when you start listening online. Follow your clients on Twitter, dial in your RSS reader to the topic you’re wrestling with and buckled down and start listening to the experts of the universe. They’re sharing at an unprecedented rate. We’re so lucky to have them on our side. More on tools and methodology here.

Now you might be thinking that all this questioning and listening takes a boatload of time. And, you’re right. It does. Listening can be like that uncomfortable silence psychologists use to get you to spill your innermost thoughts. If you pause and wait expectantly, the world can’t help but fill the void.

If it makes you feel better in that timeframe where it feels like you’re not “doing” anything, the second part of your project or objective WILL go faster and oh so much better once you’re armed with all the information you learned from listening. You’re not losing as much time as you think.

And if you’re starting a new position, it’s the time to listen more than ever. When beginning a leadership role, it can be tempting to think you need to show up and start making changes, proving your leadership, put your stamp on things immediately. But you must resist that temptation. Christine Comaford of Forbes advocates a five to one rule. Ask five questions for every mandate. So smart.

“Ask tons of questions—focus on 5 inquiries (questions) per each tendency to advocate (give orders). You must show the executive team from the start that you don’t support a culture of order takers. You support a culture of leadership, and you create them and grow them via inquiry.”

In all cases, you’ll find that asking questions and learning before you leap will not only generate the information you need for a more successful project or job, but will create better relationships with those around you. Everyone likes to provide their take on a situation and no one likes when someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing comes in and makes sweeping changes without learning first.

Conquer the week!

About Monday Matters: Monday morning is a great time to think about some big picture strategy. You’re hopefully rested from the weekend and ready to come out swinging. Don’t waste this glorious freshness on your in-box. Before you get into your tactical to-do list for the week, take this moment to pause and think about strategy.

Photo credit: Brenda Clark, via Flickr