Adjusting to a new manager

When you get a new manager in your existing role, it is important to spend time in making some adjustments; otherwise your career may get adversely impacted. This is because relationship with your manager impact career the most. This relationship will be built only when you and your manager know enough about each other and act on them. Since it is your career that is at stake, it is important that you make sure that your manager knows you well, in addition to you knowing her well.

Here are a few articles on this topic that focus on tactical activities that may help in this: same job, new boss, surviving new boss, adjust to a new boss, new boss? 5 ways to adjust

In this post, I want to focus on a few strategic aspects of building relationships with a new manager so that you can apply these (or other) tactics more effectively.

Here are the really important things to know about the manager:

  1. Goals and motivations – Everyone in a new role comes with a set of career goals and organizational goals. They also have specific likes/dislikes which motivate them to work everyday. Knowing these will help you make sense of their day to day actions.
  2. Leadership style (hands-on, hands-off, trusting, non-trusting, etc.) – Leadership Styles, Management Styles
  3. Personal Style (big picture vs. detailed oriented, decisive vs. open, etc.) – see personality assessments like Meyers-Briggs or Big Five

Here are the really important things to tell about you:

  1. Your understanding of past manager’s style – This is because your behavior will have tuned to that style and it may not be what your new manager expects, and so context will help them.
  2. Your preferred working style – How you prefer to work, what you expect your manager to provide to you, what are your personality traits that your manager should know? This helps your manager understand you as a person and an employee much better. Remember, the manager is new to the job so she needs information to be effective.
  3. Your career goals and motivations – Very important to communicate this to your manager. She needs to know what makes you tick and what do you expect the organization (and by extension, manager) to provide to you.

Ideally, above conversation should be done as soon as the new manager takes over. I have found that 2 sessions (usually 1 hour each) are enough to cover if you have done some preparation (which you must do).

Here are typical questions to ask a new manager (and then listen carefully, taking notes if you can), once you have set the context that you intend to ask lots of questions to understand her better:

  1. What would you like to achieve for yourself and for the team/company in next 12 months?
  2. What are your career goals?
  3. Can you share some stories about your previous team? How did they work? What did you like about them? Your best guy? Your not-so-good guy?
  4. What do you expect me to do in next 12 months in order to be successful?
  5. What is your style of managing people?
  6. Do you like to know the details of every single thing your team is working on? If so, how do you make sure that you know it? If not, how do you ensure we are doing our work right and you can represent us in your meetings well?

However, keep in mind that there can be a big difference in what someone says and what she does. This is not because they want to be dishonest, but because our behavior and actions are interpreted differently than what we intend to convey. Above conversation should be used as starting point only, and not the final word on the matter. Next steps are very important:

  1. Observe your manager in action: this is where rubber meets the road. This will tell you what your manager is really like in action, and whether the words and action match. Remember the quote: “What you are, is so loud in my ears, that I don’t hear what you say”. You should observe these things:
    1. Running a meeting
    2. Conducting 1-1 (with you of course)
    3. Making decisions (during meeting, in ad-hoc meetings, emails, etc.)
    4. Communication format and style (emails, 1-1s, team meeting, etc,)
    5. 360 degrees Interactions (manager, peers, reports, across teams)
  2. Observe yourself: It is important that you observe yourself in action too because what you told your manager about yourself may not play out in practice and you don’t want to be caught by your manager acting differently than what you said. It is sometimes hard to observe oneself; in that case, consider asking someone else you trust to give you feedback.
  3. Hypothesize: We always want to jump to conclusions and judge people by even a random action, this is human nature. The key to working with a new manager (or any new person in your life/work) is to suspend judgment for a while. After that period is over (say 2 months), you should proceed to judge them and form opinions, but be open to change them because you don’t have enough data yet. It is best to treat these as hypothesis and then attempt to prove/disprove them via more observations and discussions.
  4. Discuss with manager: First talk with manager is not enough, you need to have frequent (and planned) discussions with your manager, so that you can validate what you observe. Depending on your hypothesis about how open your manager is, you may or may not want to directly confirm your observations with your manager, but it is important to engage in it nonetheless; every conversation provides more data to prove/disprove a hypothesis.

In a nutshell, here are the steps to follow. It really should be done all the time, whether the manager is new or old, frequency of the cycle may go up or down as necessary.

2 Replies to “Adjusting to a new manager”

  1. This is very helpful information to have as our team begins the process of recruiting and hiring for a new Director of our Centre. Thank you for sharing your insight!

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