For one or another reason, your manager - your boss - is changing. Seemingly nothing else, just your manager. So nothing to worry about. Right?
Treat this change as a switch to another company.
Small Change, Big Consequences
It is a big mistake to undervalue the importance of change of your manager. It even doesn’t matter what your position exactly is. But the higher you’re on the managerial ladder, the more “risky” it is — the bigger amplitude of potential changes.
Relative ease comes from the following thinking: I’m in the same team, same company. Our core values and culture didn’t change. In addition, I have a good track record (assuming here ;-)), all the context I need, and knowledge of all the ropes my role requires. Therefore, my position is strong, and there’s nothing to worry about.
While all the above is true, all of it is equally unknown to your new manager.
From Another Side of the Fence
Before discussing the best way to deal with your brand new manager, let’s try to understand their point of view.
For a brief moment, please remember the last time you joined a new company. You had to build all your knowledge, networks, and even a basic understanding of work dynamics around you from the ground up. Of course, this is a massive amount of work. Therefore we all assume some basic principles and then update this mental model as we push forward. And those basic principles directly depend on our past experience but mainly on the imprint of the last position (even if the experience was a negative one).
Another angle to consider is that for every new position, there are some early wins to tackle to settle in, show leadership, and cement your status. Remember the “First 90 Days” book (I highly recommend it!) - you have only about three months to start showing results before your performance is assessed, and you lose the thrust of the initial credit of trust (pun intended).
I’m going over this to show everyone that this is a classic “delivery against time” pressure point. What is not so classic about it is that the “delivery” part is not about some complicated application but fixing or materially improving the performance of the group you’re managing.
To summarize, your new manager absolutely needs a great take-off in their new job. But they:
- Have almost non-negotiable time pressure
- Need to act on a minimal information
- Doesn’t have in-depth knowledge about your organization yet (way of working, culture, etc.)
If you’re feeling at least a bit uneasy now about all this, that was my intention.
Here’s what you can do to work this out.
Never ever let your new manager to onboard in isolation without your input. It is best to be proactive and suggest covering the area you’re accountable for as early as they’re ready. Even more: you can supplement the organization’s onboarding materials with your unique view. E.g., provide more context why some things are happening in a particular way in your company - what is the reason? How different is your function’s way of working from the rest?
It is a good idea to think about helping their onboarding in 3 cycles:
- Initial basics: vision, structure, roles, projects, metrics, stakeholders
- Intermediate depth: processes, systems, interactions, people, partners
- All-in: obstacles, challenges, power dynamics, performance, feedback cycles, culture.
Actively partnering with your new manager for their onboarding will give you a chance to provide a good set of information from your point of view but also give a good indication of what they’re interested in the most. Be flexible and adjust your help based on their questions - once you see the theme, it might be an area considered for improvement.
Use your first chance to ask about their expectations for your role. Even if the answer is “I still need to learn the responsibilities of your role in this company,” your new manager still has some fundamental intrinsic values on how they see such a role. So don’t hesitate to press to hear that version, even if it sounds pretty generic. Hear what they say, take notes, and follow up if any question occurs, especially if you have doubts you’re behaving in an expected way.
Redo this conversation about a month later - I’m pretty sure they not only looked up the description of your role after the initial expectations conversation but also talked with their peers (or their boss) about it and witnessed your other colleagues in action. You cannot skip this second conversation: this is where you get your first signals in case something needs to be corrected — also a natural chance to ask for feedback on how things look at this point.
I always give the following straightforward, even if a bit rude, advice when it comes to accepting feedback: “shut up and listen.” Absolutely the same applies when gathering feedback from your new manager too. Now, given they’re new to the company, you have all the rights and even the duty to explain all the additional details and context to some feedback given. But do your best not to get - or sound - defensive. Instead, rephrase your words to seek ideas for improvements.
A formula to follow after hearing feedback you know is wrong because of some missing knowledge: “Thank you, this is very valuable. In the past, we used to do this, because X, Y an Z. Up until now, this was acceptable, but now I’d like to take it to this new, higher level of expectations. What do you think I should do to fix this?”
And from here, collaborate at max on all changes necessary. Work on it together. You will often hear back: “oh, I wasn’t aware. Probably no changes are needed for now, but I’ll double-check.” This is not a failure but a win. You just expressed how open you are to improvements if the situation dictates such a need. This trust will take you a long way in this new partnership.
It would be best if you never waited for a formal performance review to gather this feedback. It’s going to be too late at this point. Instead, ask for feedback monthly, at least at the beginning. If not possible for any reason, do it after the first, third, and sixth months of your work together.
As with your team members, you must build trust and rapport with your new manager. The same principles apply to all human beings - be respectful and curious about what drives them, their personality, hobbies, pet peeves, etc. No special treatment is needed here, but that’s what’s unique about this - don’t let your manager <> report relationship to be a strictly cold business-only connection.
New Manager, But From the Same Company
Internal moves and re-organization also happen. Is the situation anyhow different in such a case? Not by much. You’ve got less lifting to do with onboarding help, but consider giving an opportunity for it anyway. However, all the rest is as crucial!
I Moved Under New Manager
Sometimes internal move happens when you move to another place in the business: another team, function, or squad. Promotion, new challenges, other needs - it doesn’t matter why. There’s an essential difference in such a case: you need to find who can do this onboarding for you. It is best if it’s your new manager who does this onboarding. The next best candidate is your new peer, who has been in the position for over six months. Suppose your onboarding happens by somebody other than your new manager. In that case, sharing your findings and summaries with them is a good idea to align if everything in their part of the organization is exactly as intended. It also works as a great chance to discuss disconnects, some of the “why” questions, and potential improvements. But at the end of the day, you’re the one who needs to go and get this onboarding done. For your success.
Ready For a Change
Overall, it is a good idea to stay open-minded about some changes coming up. One thing that’s guaranteed - you will get another person to work with you.
Ignoring a manager’s change may lead to frustration, loss of motivation, and even severe underperformance (and related consequences). But a well-managed one can act as the founding stone for new great professional relationships and all the fun challenges to come!
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