how to adjust to a new boss

It’s nerve-wracking to get a new boss. You may have signed up for your job assuming you’d be working for the previous manager … but at some point she may leave and a new boss will come in. How do you adjust to a new manager with a different style? These five tips will help.

1. Ask to meet with her and give her information that will help acquaint her with you and your work. Give her some brief background on yourself, your role, your goals for this year, and your progress toward making those goals. Talk about any deadlines that are coming up, obstacles you see on the horizon, and opportunities that you have your eye on. And ask what other information you can give her that will help give her the lay of the land.

2. Ask what kind of communication systems she prefers. You can start by describing the
systems you used with your previous manager, and ask if she’d like to continue those systems or set up new ones. Does she prefer email or talking in person? Does she want to meet weekly or talk more ad hoc over the next few months?

3. Give her the benefit of the doubt. A new manager is probably going to do some things differently from your old manager. This may even be, at least in part, why she was hired. It’s very tempting to think that the right way to do things is the way they’ve always been done – but resist that temptation. She may have better ways of doing things. Don’t rush to judgment. Give her some time to let her changes shake out.

4. Ask how you can help. Maybe she could really use an overview of your accounts, or the inside scoop on how to deal with Jim in Accounting, or some help with the software your department uses. Let her know you’d be glad to help with anything she needs as she’s getting acclimated.

5. Remember that it takes a while to adjust. Put yourself in her shoes, and remember that learning a new job can be overwhelming. She may want frequent updates from you in the beginning, or have more detailed questions that you’re used to answering. Don’t bristle at this or take it personally; assume that she’s getting to know her job and the team’s work, and it’ll decrease in time.

{ 12 comments… read them below }

  1. SC in SC*

    During our last re-organization, we had quite a few people come into new roles and new departments. Several of the groups did an exercise that we felt was very beneficial. Without going into too much detail: an external person facilitates a discussion with the group with the manager out of the room. The questions/discussion points are:

    • What do we already know about our new manager?
    • What don’t we know but would like to know?
    • What do we want most from our new manager?
    • What concerns do we have about our new manager or organization?
    • Currently in place that you want to keep?
    • Currently in place but would like to drop?

    Meanwhile, the manager prepares answers to these questions:

    • What is currently in place that you want to keep?
    • What is currently in place that you want to drop?
    • How far down will you make a decision in a process?
    • How do I want others to bring problems forward?
    • How do I describe my leadership style?
    • How do I express dissatisfaction?
    • What are your strong & weak points?
    • What should a staff member do if he/she thinks I am making a mistake?
    • What behaviors do you expect from your staff?

    After about 45 minutes to an hour, you get back together (manager and group) and go over the answers with discussion. I’ve been on both sides of the exercise and have found it to be very good.

  2. Jamie*

    I would hope people would apply the list to internal promotions as well.

    Just because you know someone as a co-worker, doesn’t mean there aren’t things to learn about how they manage and the not bristling part goes double if the new manager had been your peer.

    1. Jen in RO*

      I am dreading the day one of my coworkers (or me) gets promoted to team lead. I am crossing my fingers very hard that we either *don’t* get a team lead or we get someone from outside the team, because there would be a revolution if someone got promoted. Almost everyone on my team thinks she/he is a special snowflake and deserves it, ugh. (The only person they wouldn’t object to, probably, is me, since I’ve been there longest, but managing people is at the very bottom of my “things I want to do at work” list.)

  3. I just got a new boss*

    Wow, this is timely–I just got a new boss and had started drafting an email to you, but was holding off to see how things went for the first few days. Thanks!

    1. Jamie*

      That’s kind of spooky.

      If Alison’s next post is about control samples by percentage for a new production line I’ll know she can read my mind, too. :)

  4. Tiffany In Houston*

    Thanks for this..I could have used this in January..I think the relationship is a bit too far gone now, but I will still keep these tips in mind.

  5. Forrest*

    This is timely for me as well. I’ve been at my current employment for less than two years and already on my third boss. The first one left two weeks after I was hired – but at least I was given a heads up. The second didn’t make it a year. With my third, I’m just fatigue and need stability.

    We’ve also had many coming and goings on my team. We’re a small team of less than 10 employees. In addition to my boss, one of the other positions is on its third employee since I’ve started. There have been a lot of comings and goings in a short period of time and its diffcult, epsically in the kind of field I’m in.

  6. Aimee*

    Wow, what a timely column! I’m actually meeting with my new manager for the first time next week – it’s going to be interesting for both of us, I think, because we are both new to the team (he’s coming over to the team for the first time, I’m coming back after working on another project for a year, but I’ll be in a much different role with a lot more responsibility now). I’ve had a lot of new bosses (5 in the 5 1/2 years I’ve been at this company – between promotions, moving to new projects, and reorganizations), and have been lucky that they’ve all be rather easy to work for.

    We’re in the middle of another reorganization, so a lot of people are moving around – I’m happy to be moving to a new project, and I think it will be good to have a new leader on that team (someone who knows the company/industry well enough that they can jump right in, but who will have fresh/new ideas and approaches to things). The structure we’ve had for the past few years is changing as well, and teams that used to be separate are merging, so it’s definitely going to be a challenge to figure out how to make everything work.

    I’m already planning to talk to him about his preferred communication style (he’s based on the other side of the country, so it will depend on whether he prefers e-mail or phone call), what his policy is on working from home, and how he likes to handle vacation requests (currently I just tell my boss “I’m going to be on vacation these dates”, but I want to know if he’d prefer I submit the request before I buy my plane tickets. :)

    (And as I was typing this, he actually e-mailed me about how he likes to have time off scheduled, since I let him know this morning I was going to take a day off this week if he didn’t mind. Yay for good communication!)

  7. AgilePhalanges*

    Sounds like there are a lot of us in the same boat–this post was timely for me, too! I applied for and was offered a job in a whole new department this past spring, and officially began transitioning in May. Then a few weeks ago, the manager for that position, who I had interviewed with and who had been training me for my new role, was promoted to director of the department, and a manager who had managed a part of the overall department that didn’t include my small team now manages me along with the rest of the group (there were plenty of other internal shifts in who reports to who, too–we’re all flexible around here).

    Because she held such a position of power over me, and was remote from my location so I’d only met her once or twice and only briefly, I felt quite deferential to my former manager, like our relationship was quite formal. My new manager, while senior to me in experience and time in the department (and actual age, though that’s fairly irrelevant), has been physically present in this location a lot more and just generally feels more like a peer who I would occasionally shoot the breeze with, so it’s taking a bit of a shift. I don’t think either one is better or worse (either situation–formal or informal–OR either person, obviously), just different. I respect him and his knowledge, too, but since he didn’t literally hold the future of my career in his hands the way she did in hers, and since I’ve sat in his office chatting about random things, and in fact picked his brain before applying to this position, I don’t feel quite so deferential toward him.

    Also, my former manager is an expert in the area I work in, and was working very hard to train me with what she knows. Now she’s very busy with departmental things (and politics), and doesn’t have as much time to hand-hold me, and my new boss, while excellent with other areas of the department, is learning right alongside me what my little area does. In fact, I’ve explained some things to him that have reminded me how much I’ve really learned these past four months, which has been great. :-)

    Anyway, it’s a big shift in the paradigm (to borrow some corporate-speak there) ;-) but I love Alison’s tips, and am glad there are others going through the same challenges of having a new boss.

  8. Vicki*

    The worst is when the manager leaves the company and takes your job with him.

    I signed on to a company once to review, debug, and fix a lot of the programs they were currently using. I started on November; manager left in January. At which point they “didn’t need” what I’d been hired to do because they planned to replace all of those programs Really Soon (in a year or two). At that point my job became “wait for an emergency bug to fix but do NOT spend any time doing basic QA on the programs”. (Yes, I could have fixed them anyway but I wasn’t permitted to check in any updates.)

    If you’ve ever longed for a job where your role is to do essentially nothing while waiting for an emergency call? It’s not worth it. Although, in retrospect, being kept on the payroll with essentially nothing to do is better, financially, than being laid off. Essentially, I got a 9-month paid job search period.

  9. Kelly O*

    I just have to add that finding out about communication styles is absolutely key to making a new relationship work (personally or professionally.) More than just in-person v. email or phone, find out if they have a more direct or “rambly” style of dealing with things.

    Also, pay attention to what they say AND what they actually do. I’m learning right now about a boss who constantly says she does things a certain way, but when you watch her, it’s quite the opposite. I’ve adjusted things to suit what she *really* seems to want, not what she says she wants. It works better, even if it is annoying.

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