Getting a new direct manager is a situation that all of you have experienced, or will experience in the future. It can be intimidating and even scary but it does not have to be that way. Actually, it is an opportunity for a fresh start and to change or reinvent some of the processes that did not work well in the past.
This article describes a toolbox for approaching a change in leadership with excitement, anticipation, and deliberation. It can be used in various situations, for example when you start a new job, when you move to a new organization within your current employer, or when you get a new direct manager after organizational changes. It is based on my experience over the years facing numerous such occasions.
Time to read
Time to read: 8 minutes (150 wpm).
Many times in your career, you will face changes that lead to a new direct manager. The actual situation does not really matter but let’s review some of the possibilities:
- You joined a new company and, obviously, have a new direct manager.
- You changed your role in a company and thus you now have a new leadership.
- Your previous direct manager found another opportunity.
- They got promoted.
- Their position was no longer required.
- They were not a good fit for the position.
In any case, first and foremost, do not blame yourself. You are not your direct manager, you are not the leadership, and you are most probably not guilty or responsible for the situation. So, do not look back, but rather start preparing for the changes.
The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.
What matters is how you respond to the change
Actually, you only have two options: accept or reject the change; see it as a setback or an opportunity; move on or start looking a new job, org, or role.
I am not saying that any of the approaches it bad or good, I am just saying that you can use the first few weeks to analyze the situation. Then, you can make up your mind.
Approaching the new direct manager
Let’s say that you made up your mind and decided to look at the changes from a positive angle. Here are seven simple steps to increase your chances of success.
Step 1: Move on
What is done is, usually, done. Whatever happened, happened for a reason. In my experience I have never seen a change in management be reverted. At least not in the short term (we all know about Steve Jobs and other similar exceptions). So, if you are in denial phase, get out fast.
Your first step is to move on. I am not saying that you will forget and erase your previous manager from your memories – it is OK to remain friends and to continue to support them. But do not over-analyze the past and lose yourself in the “it used to be so good” thoughts.
Also forget the “what could have been” thoughts. Even if you are actually replacing your previous manager (which is great), you still have your new manager to deal with.
Move on, stay in the moment, don’t look back.
Step 2: Analyze the change
Next, you analyze the situation:
- What were the strengths of your previous manager and what are the strengths of the new one?
- What about their weaknesses?
- How do they differ?
- Are they speakers/listeners, or writer/readers, or feelers?
- Are they command & control, or pace & direct, or delegating? It is OK if you have no clue, but note it so that you can find out.
- What knowledge gaps has the new manager? What blind spots?
Pick a few topics where you can act immediately and do it. A good example is to send a new writer/reader manager a report of what you have accomplished under the previous leadership. Or, if the new direct manager is speaker/listener, just schedule a meeting to discuss the changes.
The purpose of this exercise is to secure some small wins early on. Remember, on their end there is also change, they also have a new direct report. In Team Management theory, every change in the team leads to another Forming – Storming – Norming phase. So, you will do everything possible to make your new manager’s life easier by showing them you are on their side now.
Step 3: Manage expectations
This is a very important step and I have seen so many people forget or neglect it. Every relationship (not only work, but also private) is based on rules. You will either discover or set them when an unpleasant situation arises, or you will try to anticipate the situation and set the rules in advance.
- Your new manager might expect you to be in the office between 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM.
- They might expect you to put them in Cc in every email.
- They might never read the weekly reports, you are used to sending out.
Ideally, you will discuss all these points and agree upon them within the first week or two. Feel free to also add your requirements to your new direct manager. This is a two-way process.
Step 4: Earn trust
After the initial research, put yourself again in their shoes. Think about the problems and challenges they are facing:
- Maybe they do not know the subject matter.
- Or, they do not know you.
- They lack visibility.
- They may even be inexperienced at managing direct reports.
Identify the burning problems and find patterns. Then, diagnose the problems to get to the root causes. Brainstorm and prioritize responses. And last but not least, act on these responses. Even the best plan is useless if nobody follows it.
For more information about earning trust, read this article: Build Trust – How to Build Trust in a Relationship.
Step 5: Setup 1:1 meetings
Most experienced managers will do that, but it is not the case then it should be you who owns and controls that process. Ideally, these meetings will be weekly, especially in the first few months. Then, you might schedule the bi-weekly, but I would advise you to keep them weekly. This is even most important if you are working remote.
Review your “earn trust plan” and start addressing the points from it. Prepare agenda before every 1:1 and list the topics that you wish to discuss. Most managers will value having an agenda before the meeting.
Let them have the first topic on the agenda, because their visibility is always higher than yours. If there is nothing coming from them, then start with your topics.
For more information about efficient meetings, you can read this article: Efficient Meeting – How to Get the Most of a Meeting.
Step 6: Deliver on your commitments
On your 1:1 meetings you will agree on action items, rules, and behavior. Make sure you write these down and act on them. If your new direct manager wants you to send weekly report, always send your weekly reports. There is nothing that erodes the trust more than failed commitments.
Follow up on the agreements and discuss if you met the expectations that you set in the beginning.
Step 7: Review and optimize
Not everything will run smoothly all the time. Revisit and review the “earn trust plan”, the rules and the commitments often. Identify gaps and identify rules that you no longer need. Hopefully, by that time the trust between you and your new direct manager will be much higher.
Having a new direct manager to deal with is way more fun than it actually sounds. It is a chance to make changes and fix the processes that were not working well until now. But also, it is a huge growth opportunity for you and for your new direct manager.
If you approach the change with anticipation and excitement. If you are able to spot the opportunities and plan and prepare for taking advantage of them. Then, you will have a lot higher probability of success.