new team leader wants to change everything we do

A reader writes:

My organization is a large one. At the top is the Grand Czar of Teapots, and below that, four Presidents – let’s call them, Steeping & Tea Science, National Tea Promotion, Ceramics & Decoration and Teapot Production & Marketing – with four very different personalities. I am one of four (female) PAs to these Presidents, and we all work well as a team, covering each other’s phones, helping each other out and looking out for each other and the large open-plan office as a whole, however because of the varied departments and the different ways the Presidents work, we have specific knowledge and do very different things on a daily basis.

Last year we moved to a system where all admin staff are run by admin teams rather than report to the departments, and we have a new team leader who started a three weeks ago. He has made it very clear that he wants to change the way we work, ensuring there are standardised working practices, and that he doesn’t think we do much work. However, he made all this clear before talking with us and the Presidents, and so far has spent more of his time finishing up his old post, and when he is in the office, sitting on the other side from us. Someone has clearly told him he is here to restructure us – but our Presidents make it clear daily that they are very happy with our work.

He only joined the company in November, so probably hasn’t acclimatised to the culture (the old team leader was very hands-off, assuming that she’d hear from the Presidents if there were issues), and he seems to have an unfortunate manner that makes us bristle (sexist language, clumsy jokes about our perceived personalities, doesn’t seem to understand what we actually do for our Presidents) but it’s clear that we’re going to come to a place very soon where he wants us four to work not in line with what our individual Presidents want, but in a “standard” way, so we all do the same tasks, even though, eg, only the PA to the President of Ceramics & Decoration spends a lot of time preparing design options for her President – and spend a lot of time recording our work (eg what the phonecalls were, and what we said) without explaining why he wants this, except that it will help him check we’re doing the same thing.

It feels like we are going to be put in the position of having to say to our Presidents “I can’t do that, because it’s not part of the standard job/I don’t have time, I need to work on my record-keeping”, OR say to our team leader “you’ve told me to work this way but I’m going to work that way”. We can’t talk to the team leader’s manager because she, like the previous team leader, is very hands off and makes it clear she’s very stressed and busy.

I am a huge fan of making sure tasks we share are done in the same way, and having written procedures – but this seems like the case of a very ambitious guy who came into the organisation and didn’t like his first role (hence moving so quickly) and wants to make his mark by using us as an example of how he thinks an admin team should work. We have suggested (in a friendly fashion) he might want to shadow us, and see what we do every day, but he was non-commital. How can we manage him in a way that DOESN’T lead to disputes and trauma before he realises what we do? We don’t have time to go down the road of letting this play out, go horribly wrong and then salvage it, but we can’t get him to understand our roles and knowledge are not inter-changable.

Your job is to provide support to one of the four presidents, right? And so the measure of whether you’re succeeding in your job is how happy the president is with your work / how well you’re supporting her — and this dude’s opinions should be based on that, right?

How’s your relationship and rapport with the president you support? I’m guessing that it’s quite good, because it needs to be in order to do a PA job well and it sounds like you’re getting good feedback.

Given that, I’d go talk to your president. The person you’re supporting would want to hear if you feel your ability to do that is in jeopardy, and assuming you have good rapport, would probably be taken aback if you didn’t raise your concerns and she heard about them way later.

That said, I should note that it’s possible that this guy really was brought on with the direction to shake things up — maybe even to shake things up in this specific way. From what you’re saying, that sounds unlikely, but it’s possible. So you want to open this conversation with your boss by acknowledging that. I’d open with something like this: “Fergus is planning to make some significant changes to the way the PAs support you and (name the other three presidents). I have some real concerns about what he’s planning, and I’m wondering whether you’re in the loop on his ideas and have given him the go-ahead?”

From there, assuming that your president has not signed off on the new guy’s plans, explain what’s going on and that you’re concerned that the changes the new guy wants to make will not only mess with something that’s currently working well, but will also decrease the quality of support that the PAs currently provide. Note that you’re concerned that he doesn’t have good understanding of what good performance in your role looks like, and that he hasn’t been interested when you’ve tried to talk to him about it.

Also: About those sexist jokes — please don’t let those go. Report them to someone in a position to intervene, for a few reasons: One, it’s not okay for him to making sexist jokes; two, it will raise the question of whether someone needs to pay closer attention to the way he’s managing people, particularly women; and three, it sounds like he could use a figurative slap in the face about the way he’s operating here in general.

Good luck.

{ 99 comments… read them below }

  1. Snarkus Aurelius*

    This is a mess.

    You’re all a bunch of admins who report to your respective Presidents.  Understood.  But on top of that, you have a manager/team leader to manage all of you AND that manager/team leader also has a manager?  I’d love to see your manager’s/team leader’s job description.  

    Middle management is mucking this all up, I suspect, to justify their existence.  (That’s the only reason to “shake things up” without doing due diligence to see if the status quo even works.  He’s doing it just for the sake of doing so.)

    I see no reason why all four of you need any additional management if you’re rightfully being managed by the Presidents you assist.  Why does your job need to be any more complicated than that?

    Both of these managers/team leaders are unecessary layer here.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s actually not that weird in some contexts. Think, for example, of a law firm, where there are a bunch of admins supporting the lawyers, but they’re not actually managed by those lawyers; they’re managed by someone on the admin side. It’s a pretty common set-up! Whether or not it’s needed here, I have no idea.

      1. Mike C.*

        Yeah, those managers are often quite useful to shield their reports from political crap, to prioritize work (what if two managers Need You To Drop Everything And Do Something Right Now?)and make sure you aren’t being abused by other departments.

        1. GOG11*

          I really, really wish we had this structure where I work. Supervisory duties change every year in an effort to share the workload, but it’s very difficult to have a new manager every year. Additionally, there’s no one to help manage the workload and no one person knows everything that’s on my plate at any given time. And, it’s hard to get advice on processes because they have an admin (me) to do the admin stuff so they have little to no experience with what I do and how I do it.

        2. Koko*

          I’m thinking of Mad Men and how the execs could “fire” their secretary, but all it meant was that Joan would reshuffle the secretaries so that the exec got a new secretary and the old one got assigned to someone else! Would have been terrible for those women (excuse me, “girls”) if those capricious drunks could have fired-fired them at will!

      2. Carrie in Scotland*

        In my last job I supported a group of between 5-8 people as an admin. However, while I did work for them, I was line managed by an admin supervisor and an office manager (somewhat unfortunately – my admin managers & I didn’t always see eye to eye and I ended up having quite a few “discussions” before I eventually left for my current job. All the people I supported were lovely and appreciated my work).

        1. Cassie*

          We have a similar set up, where there is an admin manager who manages the admin assistants, and those assistants work with the faculty. The biggest problem we have is when the admin manager is not good at her job. She gets down on the assistants because she doesn’t like them personally, but the faculty are fine with the performance of the assistants.

          Who manages that admin manager? Absolutely no one.

      3. Oryx*

        I keep thinking of Mad Men — in those earlier seasons, all of the secretaries are assigned to a different man to assist and support them, but they actually are managed by Joan.

        1. Allison*

          I was about to mention that show as well, and in that scenario the secretaries were constantly being re-assigned as needed, so it made sense that they had one person managing them the whole time. Also, if someone’s there to support another person and make that person’s life easier, it seems counter-productive to have that person manage them.

      4. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        We’re talking about doing that at Wakeen’s. Right now, our senior sales reps don’t have assistants (save one), and we’re talking about giving them all assistants.

        That system is the only way I’d do it. I don’t want my senior account reps to have to worry about managing people.

          1. jmkenrick*

            Just because something is “working” doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon. You shouldn’t necessarily have to wait for things to break down before you can intervene in a system that could use improvement.

            1. ExceptionToTheRule*

              If the system is functioning and you want to change it; you should start by getting some buy-in from the people using the system though: talk to them about why you want to make changes, ask if they have ideas about things that could work smoother or better. That’s pretty basic change management.

              1. Bunny*

                Absolutely! At the very least you should know what the current system *is* and what the roles in it involve. It sounds like the guy coming in for LW doesn’t even know what LW’s job entails, let alone how well they’re doing it. And to make such dramatic, sweeping changes to a role before you even know what the role is… doesn’t sound like something that will *improve* things to me.

            2. Annonymouse*

              Except to change a system you need to either:
              A) understand what doesn’t work
              B) understand what can be improved upon.

              Coming in and making changes without a fundamental understanding of what the system is or what its goal/purpose is means you’re going to make bad decisions.

              If he was spending time with the presidents and asking where they need more support and making changes based of their input I could get behind that.

              If he talked to the PAs about ways to do things more efficiently or understood what each one does then change away.

              It’s like people at my work thinking I’m “just” a receptionist at teapot sports club.
              How about:
              Event coordinator
              Admin and account manager?
              Coming in and trying to change my salary, role or give me less hours is not going to go well for the business

    2. Matt*

      In my area (IT / software development) this is rather common. It’s called matrix organization. I formally report to my supervisor, but all she does management-wise is assigning me my projects I have to work on, approving my vacation requests, etc. The ones who actually tell me the work to do are the project managers of the various projects. Yes, that can be difficult, let’s say if my supervisor assigns me to Project A for 70 %, Project B for 30 %, and project manager B does not accept that I’m not available for him at all times because I have to spend the majority of my time on project A, or project manager A is not glad about the vacation my supervisor approved me, etc. etc. – the classical clash of competences is pre-programmed, but it’s really a normal thing in this area.

  2. Mike C.*

    I’m seeing a whole lot of different issues here. Standardization of work is a great thing that leads to a lot of saved time and fewer mistakes. So long as this doesn’t interfere with what needs to be done, give it a chance.

    I’m a bit surprised that they’re bringing someone in to change everything when all of your feedback has been positive. That’s really strange, and there must be a disconnect in feedback communication or something.

    On the other hand, sexist jokes aren’t funny and that shit should be nipped in the bud like AaM pointed out.

    1. Cat*

      One possibility did occur to me while reading the letter – having a manager separate from the person you do day to day work for does, sometimes, lead those day-to-day people to abdicate all “bad cop” responsibilities to the manager. So it’s possible that the presidents are assuring their assistants that everything is great and meanwhile telling the manager that X, Y, and Z have to change.

      Hopefully that’s not the case, but I’ve seen lawyers do that with their assistants.

      1. Where the sheets have no names*

        This is often referred to as the “Ronald Reagan”.

        Reading the letter, I have many questions:

        – why did the previous Team Leader leave? If anyone is still in touch with her, it might be interesting to ask them what they think is going on.

        – so this new team lead was hired on for a different job, and is now re-assigned to lead your team? It sounds like there might be an interesting story there.

        – I notice that you have many suspicions and premonitions of how this guy is going to screw things up – but (aside from the sexist language) has he yet made any changes? I mention this because having a chat with your P about your fears of what this new TL might do may not really make an impact. If he does all sorts of whacky things, the associated stories would probably have a lot more impact.

        – still, I’d be careful about relying too much on one o your Presidents to come to your rescue.

        – your new Team Lead is almost certainly going to try to make it seem like he has done amazing things. He’s going about it rather strangely, though: it’s different at different businesses, but typically someone will want to set things up in such a way that the effect of the changes can be measured. I’m not sure if this is something you want to get all involved with, but one possible way to “fight” any outrageous changes in his plan is to ask (or get someone else to ask) pointed questions about how the effects of these changes will be measured. Note that it is in his own best interest to have this stuff established, because when the time comes that he wants to show off the value of his hard work – he’d better have something concrete to show off.

        All in all, a strange situation. I cannot help thinking that new Team Lead isn’t happy about the job and is trying hard to spend a minimal amount of time there. If that is the case, and you dislike the guy and want him gone – you may need to start thinking about helping him versus resisting him.

    2. maggie*

      Not that strange, actually. It could be that the CEO decided the previous year that the Presidents needed more time to focus on new strategies so they brought in a middle man. Pres’ could very much like the way things are done because they have always worked in the past/status quo, and now view supervisorship to be managed by the newcomer. So it can be both: they like their work overall but are no longer ‘allowed’ to manage them and now officially support the newcomer to manage their assistant.

      1. Mike C.*

        It’s possible, I would have just assumed that someone would have explained this change. Then again, if people regularly communicated, this blog would be out of business.

    1. The Other Katie*

      I haven’t even read the letter yet, I just wanted to see who else was thinking this? I love that title! Ok, back to the letter now…

  3. C Average*

    I’m going to be the contrarian voice here and say that I hope you’ll give some of these new approaches a chance to succeed or fail on their merits. View this as an interesting experiment that could go either way, and try to go into it with an open mind.

    I’ve seen things like this happen at my company: a new person was brought in to bring order and process standardization to a team that lacked those things. There was a lot of initial pushback: “We have a system that works. Nothing is broken. Why do you, an outsider, insist on busting in and trying to fix something that’s not broken?”

    In some cases, the implementation of these new systems wasn’t a stand-alone step; it was the first step in a longer-term strategy. For example, on my team, there was an emphasis on quantifying our work and cross-training because our manager was making the case to her leadership for expanding our team and making it global rather than specific to our geography. She couldn’t have done this without the strategic foundational work of figuring out who was doing what (through quantifying our workflows) and making each person a more flexible resource (through cross-training).

    We bellyached our way through the whole tedious process, but the strategy worked. Experiences like this make me think outsiders can sometimes see the big picture and the path ahead better than long-tenured employees, and I’m now more apt to trust them and follow their lead.

    (I’ve also seen such initiatives fail. But they’ve failed honestly, not because people didn’t buy in or sabotaged the effort.)

    1. Judy*

      But it sounds like he’s not interested in figuring out what people do. I personally have seen process improvement efforts work very well, but it was because the team was involved with one “facilitator” consultant from either outside the company or just outside the department. I’ve also seen process improvement efforts that involved more consultants than the team had members with very little involvement from the team, and that was just a waste of time and money.

      1. JB*

        That’s my concern. I can’t tell from the letter, because it does have some stuff that makes it sound like he wants to do that, but other parts make it seem that he doesn’t really want to do that. My problem with new managers who want to change everything is when they come in and immediately want to change with out understanding why things are currently done the way they are and without thinking through all the most likely effects of the changes they want to make. Sometimes it only looks like that’s what’s happening to the people who are having the changes made to their work (if that’s the case, then there’s a failure in communication), but sometimes that is what is happening. If changes are made for the sake of changing without understanding how things work and -need- to work, then the changes can be a disaster. But on the other hand, as C Average pointed out, sometimes it takes outside perspective to realize that a change is for the best.

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          Yes to all of this. My first job out of college was working for an oil and gas company that was a subsidiary of a huge French petroleum conglomerate. I quickly learned that this subsidiary was seen as the training ground for young executives to cut their teeth on, because every year or 2 there was a new CEO, who would decide that we had to change the way we were doing everything. There was never any rhyme or reason for the change that I could see, other than just deciding that there had to be a change. It was so annoying.

          I also had a really horrible boss a few years ago who came in and announced that we would be changing the way we did everything. But he said that before he’d spent any time with his staff learning how things were done, and why. You need to spend some time understanding the current state before you can really visualize a better or more efficient future state.

          1. Where the sheets have no names*

            Chu-chu-chu-chu-changes! :)

            I know I’m cynical, but I think that promoting oneself as an “agent of change” is an old, cheap trick that people use to get hired into middle- and upper-management positions. Nobody ever got hired into a C-level position because they promised that they would continue doing things the same way they have been done for the past 20 years.

            Change isn’t necessarily bad. But I think some people promote “change for the sake of change” and I don’t think that’s either wise or ethical.

    2. BRR*

      That was my thought as well. From what we’ve been told it seems like both sides aren’t really giving the other side a shot.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      Good point, but I think this is a bit different because they are admins; I have found that most executives are clueless about the roles of PAs/EAs – for example, my boss is great but barely understands the difference between exempt and non-exempt. Generally, once a system is in place that works well for the executives and admins, there’s no need to change it just for the sake of change (which is what I think is happening with OP).
      As an EA, this type of thing is so frustrating. At least where I work, we are almost completely self-managed and it works well. Once in a while, someone comes in and tries to mess with the systems and the only reason it’s being done is because the person is trying to look good as a manager and never has any ideas that would be remotely helpful. Without fail, the only “suggestions” are things are are complete busy work, like logging calls (WHY???) or unnecessary tracking that looks good on paper but is useless to everyone involved. The “changes” last a few days before everyone just goes back the normal ways of doing things.

    4. AnonAcademic*

      I think Allison’s advice still applies here because if the President has insight into the long view, or end game the new manager is aiming for, he/she can share that with the OP. Sometimes big changes are easier to stomach when there is a tangible goal in sight. It sounds like the reasoning behind the restructuring is totally opaque to the OP and that’s not very helpful.

    5. azvlr*

      Yes, please try to keep an open mind. I have seen initiatives like this fail, not because the idea was bad or good, but because no one gave it half a chance. Buy-in will make or break this! I have also seen initiatives like this succeed. Boss says, “You will now have to do x in addition to all your other duties.” I think to myself, I can’t possibly take on one more thing, but because he had gained the trust of his staff, we gave it a try. At the end of the initiative, I looked back at the successful program that I had a hand in and thought, “Wow! I achieved something I didn’t think I could accomplish.” and felt very proud.
      At first, I thought the guy was just a ladder-climbing ball buster, but in the end, I felt he was the best boss ever.

      1. Annonymouse*

        Yes, but the difference is you have a boss you trust and (I assume) has a basic understanding of what you do.

        If you want to make changes and can explain how/why they are needed or good I can understand and try to support that.

        If you’re making changes for the sake of doing something new/to look good or you’ve given me a reason and I’ve explained why that won’t work because I do the day to day

        I.e Old boss wanting me to call, text and email prospective new members EVERY DAY instead of one contact every second day because people don’t like being harassed 3 times a day.

    6. Stranger than Fiction*

      Yes, good point. But, this guy doesn’t seem interesting in quantifying their work by asking them for outlines of what they currently do or anything of that nature, in order to lay the foundation in the first place. He’s just pouring cement.

  4. sam*

    I’m wondering if, just for the sake of wondering, if the problem isn’t necessarily on the admin end but on the other end?

    I’ve seen situations in the past were the admin-boss relationship was the bee’s knees, but it turned out that the admin was doing a significant amount of work that was actually the “boss’s” responsibility and not actually appropriate for the admin to be doing (or, quite frankly, was stuff that was personal in nature (booking personal travel, arranging for doctors appointments, etc.) and not appropriate for a work assistant to be dealing with, especially if the admin ends up having to work overtime to get their actual work done. Don’t get me wrong – in some offices, these things are seen as OK, and in some they’re frowned on, but it depends on the office). The other way I’ve seen it go in the legal field is expecting admins to do what is essentially paralegal work. Perhaps this is a somewhat awkward way to try to document exactly what work the admins are doing, so that they can actually figure out if something like that is going on? It’s a lot easier to “catch” in this direction than by going to the boss and asking if they’re pawning off their work on their assistants.

    For instance, even in the example given, that the PA for the ceramics & design Pres spends a lot of time preparing design options, I have no idea whether this is something that a PA should or should not be doing at this org, but is this something that perhaps an associate or analyst should actually be doing?

    Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree, but this is where my brain went.

    But I totally agree that the sexist comments need to get nipped in the bud somehow, someway. Sounds like he thinks he’s in Mad Men and you’re the office girls. No sir.

      1. Beancounter in Texas*

        I had this issue as an admin at a very large corporation. My title was Admin Asst II, but my duties were 90% administrator, rather than assistant.

    1. the gold digger*

      the admin was doing a significant amount of work that was actually the “boss’s” responsibility

      You mean the two admins who support a group of 13 in corporate finance are not supposed to be spending their time making haircut appointments for the VP and taking his car to get the oil changed?

      1. NJ Anon*

        or take their dog’s poop to the vet to be tested? And yes, this was a real thing :-(

    2. Steve G*

      I was thinking that the problem might be somewhere else, and also that this guy might have some computer skills needed to change the administration processes in ways that the current staff doesn’t have experience with. Maybe data entry isn’t standardized, but he knows how to make custom forms in VBA and Access and is going to automate that data being emailed into Salesforce every night.

      That being said, he definitely needs a personality adjustment. Why would you ever let it be known that you think the group you are supposed to be help doesn’t do much? That isn’t going to start this off on the right foot! Especially because if you didn’t have a lot of work because things were slow – that isn’t your fault!

      1. Jaune Desprez*

        Yes, this. You are never, ever going to get the best out of your team if you make it clear that you don’t value what they do.

      2. Where the sheets have no names*

        Good point, but I can see it happening as a strategic move: when he comes on board at the beginning, he talks about how bad they are. A year later – after his changes have gone into effect – he’s all abou how great they are *now*.

        Not sure if it applies to LW’s new TL. But I’ve personally seen this done.

        1. Brisvegan*

          The bad boss I have mentioned in a few other comments was a bit the same. She went off on a rant on her first day about her “disgusting, dirty” office to the admin staff. She also told them off for not laying out stationary for her, on the desk (it was in drawers!). As 2IC, I had checked the office before she started and it was clean and welcoming.

          She later told me it was a ploy so the admin staff would be “put in their place” from the start.

          She later also yelled at a admin person for not realising the boss’ stapler was out of staples and not refilling it, even though the boss had never requested such bizarre assistance, it being outside the admin’s role and the boss not mentioning the stapler was empty.

        2. Brisvegan*

          I should also mention that in the job I previously mentioned, we had some of the best admin people I have ever worked with. They were efficient, proactive, very hard working and excellent with our student cohorts and VIP’s.

      1. sam*

        If the issue is actually that work is being done that shouldn’t be done by the admins (and I’m not just talking about really egregious stuff like some of the examples people gave above) but rather by analysts, associates, etc., it may be the sort of thing that is only “observable” in a really passive way, and in a way that the people being observed aren’t aware of.

        If, say, the managers actually know that they shouldn’t actually be assigning certain work to their PA but have been getting away with it for years, they’re certainly not going to do it while the new supervisor is sitting next to the PA.

        It’s like one of those science experiments where the very act of observation (and the knowledge of being observed) affects the outcome.

  5. YandO*

    Additional thoughts:

    I was an EA. We had no oversight. None. I assisted a team of 9-13 people, which 3 C-level Execs. As long as my guys were happy, nobody cared what when and how I did my job.

    My co-worker, fellow EA, left while I was there. We found out that she did a really crappy job that cost her director 15K in personal funds (reimbursements). Due to no oversight, there was no way of knowing this was happening.

    Huge mess and sh*t show ensued.

    I would not have appreciated having oversight at the time (because my work was good) but now, with some distance, I realize how important it would have been to have it.

    1. Anon College AA*

      Along the same lines, although you all cover each other for phones, etc, could you actually cover each other if one person was out of the office? When one of you goes on vacation, can the others cover, or does that President just have to wait until her assistant comes back beyond the most basic of duties like answering the phone? What if someone went out for 6 weeks for a knee replacement or similar?

      At the college I worked at, there was a similar “Each AA has her own person to support and own duties” structure. Which worked fine when everyone was there. But then multiple people were all ready to retire at the same time, and everyone realized that all the duties have evolved into their own separate processes, despite having the same official job description line (process travel reimbursements, for instance, or pay bills and reconcile accounts) and therefore it took weeks to even write up a decent job description to hire a replacement, not to mention actually hire and train someone. Plus the delegation aspect as mentioned above – if one assistant was less busy and the other was swamped, they could technically help each other to be nice – but VP1 couldn’t ask assistant 2 to do a task for her, only VP1 to Asst1 and VP2 to Asst2.

      So this could be an effort to make sure there is adequate coverage for all the Presidents if one of the assistants is out. Or someone could be trying to show that either there need to be one less assistant, or possibly that there should be someone in the middle hired to do more specialized work (like the person doing design options – maybe that should be a full time job in and of itself, and leave the PA work to someone else).

  6. hbc*

    I see two main issues here: 1) the record keeping, and 2) the standardization that seems to be on a collision course with the standardization.

    1) Your new manager says it’s a requirement, and so you do it. Maybe it’s temporary while he’s figuring out what you do, maybe it’s an idea that will quickly die when you show that you’re spending an hour a day on documentation, or maybe it’s something that needs to be done forever. You need to do it, and only speak up if it’s causing problems. (“Why didn’t you answer the phone?” “I was already three calls behind on documenting, which is a maximum for remembering the information. If answering every call is more important, the documentation is going to suffer.”)

    2) I think you need to point out to New Manager that you don’t understand how the new setup will accommodate the old. “Currently, we do X, Y, and Z specialized activities. Is the plan to take those away from us or have us all trained and able to do them properly?” If he chooses neither and you’re all just winging it, one or more of the Presidents is bound to complain. Point them at your manager and say that your standardization requires that any of you might get those tasks.

  7. brightstar*

    I think the details of the changes the new team leader want to make are confusing because of the filter of the OP’s dislike. While it sounds warranted, it’s possible thst some standardization is needed or that is what he’s being asked to do.

    The sexist jokes definitely need to be reported. As for the standardization, if he’s not getting a sense of why things are done it will make things more difficult.

    I became supervisor of a department and spent months learning how processes are performed. Now I’m standardizing things and creating written documentation tomake things easier for employees in the future. But research and knowledge are essential in doing this properly.

  8. Jaune Desprez*

    This isn’t exactly the same situation, but I’ve previously been in a couple of jobs where I worked in a specialized capacity for a Big Boss but was lumped in with the admin team for management purposes. This usually worked out fairly well, but I ran into occasional difficulties when the team would get a new manager who didn’t understand my particular role and was set on standardizing everyone’s duties. I settled on a three-step process for handling these situations, and I suspect the same basic approach would work for you and your PA team.

    First, I would try to privately meet with the new manager to clarify my role. “Jane, although I’m officially part of the admin team, the bulk of my work is coordinating teapot engraving inspections for Big Boss. I haven’t previously been scheduled on the reception desk.”

    If Jane disregarded this, my second step was to very calmly and matter-of-factly inform Big Boss. “By the way, Big Boss, Jane has assigned me to cover the reception desk on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I did mention that it hasn’t previously been one of my duties, but she decided that I need to take it on. Should I reschedule the weekly Engraving QA meetings, or do you want to hold them without me?” This would usually take care of the problem.

    In the rare instances when Step 2 didn’t resolve the situation, I would perform the new tasks as assigned, to the best of my ability, until they actively inconvenienced Big Boss. “I’m sorry, Big Boss, but I can’t accompany you on the Plant 4 engraving inspection today. Wakeen called in sick, and Jane just instructed me to cover the reception desk until he returns.” This would always result in a highly annoyed Big Boss calling Jane and sharply instructing her to remove me from the reception roster, the telephone roster, the fridge-cleaning roster, or whatever else the Standardization of the Moment involved.

    1. maggie*

      I have to admit that my eyebrows raised at you getting taken off the fridge cleaning roster. I personally feel that is everybody’s job (maybe not Big Boss’), regardless of title. Ahem.

      (I didn’t say my feeling were practical or financially optimized.)

      1. Jaune Desprez*

        I actually didn’t ask to get taken off that particular roster because it was only once every couple of months, but Big Boss found me scrubbing dried soy sauce off the fridge shelves on the day before we had a grant application due, and he threw a hissy fit! That manager never did believe I hadn’t put him up to it.

        The Cleaning of the Office Fridge is the single most contentious topic I have ever run across in 30+ years of office life.

          1. Anony-moose*

            Oh god, the dishes and fridge will be what kills me. Dishes = we have a good rotation. Fridge = it’s like the Wild West meets a fourth grade classroom. No rules. No one to clean it. Food sits in it for month. Our admin just laughs at the mess and makes snarky remarks if anyone circulates an email or note.

            There’s spilled juice in there. No one will clean it up. My soul hurts.

            1. LD*

              Just an idea, in old job the fridge was cleaned out completely every other Friday by the janitorial staff. And I mean completely. Anything left there was tossed in the trash: those little packets of ketchup or sauce, Styrofoam leftover containers, unopened frozen dinners, canned drinks, Tupperware, EVERYTHING! It only took one time of losing something for people to get the idea and stop leaving things in the fridge for days/weeks.

            2. Zahra*

              My current workplace is small enough that we have a weekly rotation for those tasks.

              Weekly clean-up duties include:
              – Emptying the big trashcan when full
              – Running the dishwasher and emptying it
              – Making sure all dishware goes back to the kitchen for dishwashing
              – Making sure there are enough supplies of everything (milk, trash bags, etc.)
              – Making sure there’s enough water in the coffee machine when we start the day
              – Emptying the fridge of any obvious leftovers (that got added recently)
              – Etc.

              You don’t have to do any of those tasks, you’re just responsible to make sure they’re done.

      2. Karowen*

        That’s fine for smaller offices, but once you hit a certain size you need to assign that task to someone. In my location it would be more of a headache to keep up with (a)where each person sits (and therefore what fridge they should be using/be responsible for-we move frequently based on needs) and (b)who has left the company/come on as a temp/come on as a perm.

        1. Judy*

          I’ve worked at places with thousands of employees. The fridges were assigned to the manager who sits nearest, and they were to manage a rotation of who cleaned them out monthly, with a sheet on the door for the year. Didn’t ever see that many problems.

    2. themmases*

      I have had similar experiences. This is such a tricky position to be in because, as a young woman who had the same director as all my departments’ admin assistants, I was definitely assigned work that was not my job, not well-defined in scope, and not valuable enough to the department to justify the time spent on it (as evidenced by the fact that there was no proper admin support for it, and no plans to ever hire any).

      However, it’s obviously very difficult to be diplomatic about pushing back on that. Pushing back on admin tasks particularly can look stuck-up and offend your manager, who may be an administrator themselves. Plus, some people seem to think it’s impossible for something to ever really not be your job, even if the task is not even your skill set or your career. For example, I’m a health researcher so I’m good at reading the medical records of people with very long and complex health histories, quickly picking out the relevant parts, coding the outcome numerically, and analyzing the results of doing this hundreds of times. I would get requests to submit someone’s help desk ticket/manage this Exchange site/grade these exams/take photos of new people for some bulletin board.

      My approach was similar to Jaune’s. If you’re like most people, you are probably busy already with things that really are your job. If they start getting pushed off in favor of things that aren’t, it shouldn’t take long for that to inconvenience someone with a say. The other thing I would do was make clear I was happy to do the core task but did not have time for the substantial housekeeping related to it. So I’d be happy to take photos of those new people– but I can’t be the owner of the camera, or tracking people down if they don’t get their picture taken, or redecorating the new hire bulletin board. Funny how quickly those requests stopped if that was going to be the case.

      1. the_scientist*

        You’re also an epi, right? I am wondering if my alter-ego wrote this comment; that’s how similar your experience was to what I went through at my old job! This is definitely A Thing in small research groups, apparently!

        1. themmases*

          Yes, I am also an epi! I think this kind of thing is definitely part of being in a new or small research group. As far as I could tell, I reported to the directer I did because we originally had one entry-level research assistant who was truly just providing extra help to the handful of people who had an interest in research and wanted to do some small projects. Maybe in that context, with an entry-level person who is not very specialized or busy, it’s appropriate for them to help out elsewhere when they can. But as the program grew, the oversight and responsibilities– and the perception of us personally– never really changed.

          1. the_scientist*

            My situation was that as the only research analyst and with no admin staff or other support staff……literally everything became my job at one point or another. It reached the point where tasks that should have been handled by an admin were not only falling to me, but were taking up more than 50% of my time. This was the single biggest reason why I started looking for a new job after only 8 months in that role; I understand that in small programs you do need to just pitch in and get it done…but at that point my research activities had basically been consumed by expense reports, Visa reconciliations, managing the intranet, web content and a bunch of other things I had no interest in or particular aptitude for, and that weren’t developing my skills in any meaningful ways. My boss had always been up front that if I wanted to be involved in papers, I’d have to put in work on my own time, but after a while I started to wonder if she was deliberately blocking my involvement in papers since her other RAs got dedicated, paid writing time.

            And yes- the perception issue is a big and real issue. I’m also young and female and one of our external scientists as well as several other people in different departments were utterly convinced that I was the program admin assistant and would go to me with administrative issues. With no one else to point them towards, my boss actively encouraged this. Once people have that perception of you, it is incredibly difficult to change it. Honestly, it was only when I left that I think they realized.

            1. Anonsie*

              It’s a mixture of relieving and really frustrating to see other people having the exact same problems as me all around.

    3. AnonToday*

      This situation sounds so familiar, but I’ve seen it from the flip side. I used to manage a team of admins who supported higher level managers. They all had some form of specialized, important work. They also had a shared responsibility for the most-hated admin tasks: covering the front desk, covering the main phone, ordering supplies, etc. All of the admins felt that those tasks interfered with their most important duties, all of them wanted to get out of the rotation. Some were successful while others weren’t, which resulted in major tension on the admin team and some fairly unfavorable performance evaluations which resulted in even more tension.

      The only way I was able to navigate that situation (as the new person) was to make clear that if you were on the team….you were on the team. I had several, “I know I’m listed as an Admin, but my work involves A,B,C and thus I need to be exempt from *insert undesirable task here*”). I’m not saying this was the case for you at all, but when I was working in that position I got a lot of the same language from the admins who were hell bent on avoiding the duties that they didn’t want. Some got their department heads to request (demand) that their support staff be removed from certain duties. In my case, what they didn’t realize is that I reported to their department heads’ boss, and THAT big boss was tired of the squabbling/shirking (as she called it) and discord around basic office operations. So I had to find some solution that kept everyone happy – or at least equally unhappy. Support of your specific team came first, we worked with the Sr. Exec’s schedules to keep duties like covering the front desk from interfering with access to their department support, we had enough standard duties to provide decent coverage in the absence of one or more admin at a time and I made sure to also put in time when needed. It helped, but man it was hard.

      1. Jaune Desprez*

        It sounds like you handled a difficult situation well. In my personal experience, the large offices I’ve been in worked better with a little more compartmentalization of responsibilities (e.g., they hired one or two people specifically for lower-level responsibilities to free up higher-paid staff for more critical functions), but I know there are plenty of bosses who want all their admins to be Renaissance people.

        In my case, I really wasn’t an admin at all, but in a couple of jobs, I wound up in that group on the org chart because I wasn’t a manager and I didn’t dispense any of several flavors of direct patient care. In the second of those jobs, my Big Boss wasn’t quite big enough to ward off all the admin assignments, and I eventually wound up with a manager who said, “In spite of your different responsibilities, title, pay scale, and location, you’re part of my group and I treat everyone the same. Therefore, you’re on the roster.” It had a happy ending, though. I left for a much better and better-paid position, and my successor is differently supervised and performs no admin duties at all.

      2. EA Anon*

        I support the regional partner for our firm and I am busy with things that need to be done for him but if needed I will cover the front desk if asked, I will take some on my work with me so I can do it up front. I think I only cover the front desk once for 2 hours until the replacement arrived. I have been told that I don’t need to do it but I want to lead by example to my fellow EA.

  9. Jeanne*

    To me, it sounds like the new guy is on a bit of a power trip. He is the new boss so he has to make changes. It isn’t relevant if the changes are helpful or not; he needs to show he is in charge. Along with that, to me it appears he sees them as “beneath” him. He does not have respect for what they do. Thus the sexist jokes and refusing to learn the job duties and nuances.

    I don’t know how people like this keep getting management jobs, but there are some in every company. I would try Alison’s advice with talking to your individual president. After that, see if you can get him to give you some assignments in email, especially if he is overruling your president. Good luck!

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      The sexist jokes lead me to agree with this interpretation. He shows no interest in learning what the PAs actually do (assumes they don’t do much work, declined to shadow them for a day, etc) and tells sexist jokes — this guy appears to have no respect for the job of a PA and seems to think their work is insignificant. I would be feeling wary in your shoes, too, OP.

      1. RVA Cat*

        This. A manager should never have–and especially never show–contempt for his reports. This jerk is wearing his “just a secretary!” attitude on his sleeve. Dude needs to get over himself with a quickness. As someone mentioned Mad Men earlier, I’m mentally picturing those McCann cave men that Peggy and Joan had to deal with in last night’s season premiere.

        1. Mike C.*

          Yeah, I have to agree here. One of the fundamentals of process improvement is getting feedback and buy in from those who will be directed by the changes.

          The sexist jokes are just icing on the cake.

  10. puddin*

    Change Management, Change Management, Change Management…I think it is totally normal for the new manager to re-create the team in his image – it happens all the time. It is a major reason why people want to become managers, because they want to implement all the (hopefully) great ideas floating around in their heads.

    Because the team lead did not set the stage for change, he will encounter resistance and, as the OP mentioned, could be changing the wrong things or in the wrong way. If he had, the OP would know why these changes are being implemented. Simply saying to ‘standardize processes’ is not good enough. What problem is it solving? How will it solve the problem? How will we know it is a successful change? It sounds like none of these questions have been answered – and that should have been step one in the communication plan (which I am certain the team leader has put together /end sarcasm).

    For the love of Pete, before anyone unleashes a new anything that impacts employees perceptions about their daily work, develop a change management plan. Sheesh…

    (yeah its a hot topic for me)

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      My new boss will suddenly change things and then not even acknowledge that what she did represents a change. Then, if questioned about it, she acts as if the questioner is an idiot for not knowing that, of course, we’ve done it this way all along.

  11. Variation*

    This is really interesting to read- my partner recently started a position where he’s working at this from the other side: fixing inefficiencies and resolving problems with client experiences. He’s facing a lot of pushback from people who do good work, but are unaware of how their actions are ultimately harmful in the big picture (alienating new customers, skipping necessary procedures, etc).

    So, I guess, to build on this question- how could this new manager implement these changes without causing so much angst? I mean, obviously, without the sexist comments. Does this new manager need to explain the reasoning behind every change?

    1. Mike C.*

      Yes, the manager should be explaining everything. If people don’t see the big picture they aren’t going to suddenly intuit it, they need to be told/shown/have it explained in a respectful and meaningful way.

      1. Editor*

        Yes, and to me, respectful explanations allow for feedback and discussion of possible future problems. If I receive an explanation for a proposed change, then I want to be able to anticipate some problems and work through them before the change is implemented. Someone who’s done some shadowing or analysis might not necessarily know about infrequent but recurring problems.

        “Institutional memory” isn’t just a way to keep things ticking over the way they always have, it’s a way to make sure future problems are anticipated by planning for possible issues that are known variations in normal routine. Respectful, productive discussions between people who are capable of understanding all the issues and who don’t dismiss the concerns of responsible stakeholders are important to manage change successfully.

        What’s not effective? Long meetings dominated by questions from people who don’t understand what the other part of the department does, with a vendor who limits solutions or makes implementation mistakes, and a project manager who dismisses the concerns and compliance issues brought up by the staff members who actually do the work. “Solutions” that consume more time than the previous processes. Project managers who leave at 5 p.m. and breezily ask the being-paid-one-fourth-of-the-PM’s-salary-exempts “are you staying late again tonight” also don’t inspire successful change. This just breeds “Change PTSD.”

        One place where I worked had a new initiative with our main product about every year and a half. No matter how much buy-in and enthusiasm there was in the rank and file, management had a new idea in the pipeline 18 months later after having quietly undercapitalized the change and then abandoned it after incomplete training and often incomplete implementation. Toward the end at that employer, I’d go in to a meeting about a new initiative and feel like I was in a Casablanca replay, arresting the usual suspects but solving nothing at all.

    2. Zahra*

      The manager should be explaining the general thrust of the reorganization. Then, if possible, as an employee, I’d appreciate going over each step and the impact of the changes. Who knows, maybe the people pushing back would have other ideas that would be just as good or better? I’m sure AaM has a post somewhere on how to get buy-in for that kind of situation.

    3. Zillah*

      I’m not a manager, but I can say that from the other side of things, I don’t need absolutely everything explained – but what I do need is to feel respected and like I understand what’s going on in general. There are some things that my managers aren’t necessarily going to be able to tell me, and that’s okay. It’s when I feel like they never communicate about changes that there’s a problem.

    4. Bunny*

      Generally, I don’t need the reason for every change explained to me *if* I feel like the person making the changes understands my role and how it works.

      So, for example. In an old complaints-handling job of mine, when I joined the standard way of working was to write letters. Our customers, 90% of the time, wrote in themselves and were mostly older, so replying by letter was seen as us making an effort and meeting them on the same ground. It made sense also, because the SLA for replies was 28 days, due to the complexity of the sort of complaints we tended to receive, which could be several pages long and very context-specific, and which therefore required a lot of investigation and liaising with other departments.

      Cue new manager coming in, who’d come from a complaints department that handled time-sensitive issues, where they were legally required to give replies within a certain time-frame, and where high turnover of customer complaints was expected. He immediately started setting targets for % of complaints closed by phone, and complaints closed the same day or within one week, without any discussion with the department – just an announcement in the first meeting.

      Unsurprisingly, while our complaint turnover speed increased, everything else went tits up. Customers reopening complaints due to being unsatisfied with the response became common, often because they didn’t realise the brief phone call represented a closure to the complaint or because they couldn’t recall whether all their issues were adequately covered in it. Which resulted in us often having to close cases by offering compensation in circumstances that wouldn’t usually warrant it, and which were previously well handled by a sincere and personal written response.

      It turned out that the manager had been told the department was too large and slow, that both the budget and the headcount was going to be cut and he needed to streamline things, and from his perspective phone-based closing with faster turnaround was a sensible way to go about it. Now, granted none of us wanted the department budget or headcount cut, but if we’d just been told that the department needed to be more efficient, or faster, or close cases within lower SLAs, we could’ve offered half a dozen suggestions that would have fit well within the framework of our department without increasing our stress and customer dissatisfaction.

    5. HR Pro*

      Variation, I suggest your partner read the book Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson. It’s simple and quick to read, and gives advice about helping manage change.

    6. Snoskred*

      I think it is also useful to have one on ones with the people who work there and ask them for their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. And when the new manager does that, it can be very useful to ask the question “Are there any clients who you would kick to the kerb and if so, why?”

      Because the answer to that question can often open up better ways of doing things – without having to kick the client to the kerb – and also alert new managers to existing and ongoing issues with clients.

      I note you say “skipping necessary procedures” – there might be a very good reason why people are doing this, and it would be worth asking why these procedures are skipped before making any judgments on that.

      In one of the call centres I worked in, we had two clients who were just trouble from beginning to end. One client would routinely send in these 24 page long emails of spelling corrections with comments like “Your staff are so stupid, they cannot spell X suburb name” – and in one memorable case, the forms she had provided us to use spelled things incorrectly and she accused the staff of doing it!

      We had a new manager come in who thought the best way to handle these 24 page long emails was to forward them out to everyone in the call centre with a title like “Improove youre Spelling”. Spelled exactly that way. Yeah that was inspirational stuff, lead by example and all that.

      Had the new manager bothered to ask us, we would have told her that this client had been sending these emails ever since they were a client, and the previous manager got to a point with that client where she just replied to the client “Ok.” and then deleted them without reading them or passing any feedback on.

      There was another client who insisted we use their system which was difficult to learn, difficult to use, clunky, and often would not work so we had to find workarounds. Any job for that client would take one senior operator off the phones for at least an hour, and sometimes several hours, during our most busy shifts. Everyone hated the client software and nobody wanted to get stuck doing it, to the point that people would call in sick if they knew they were going to be the person assigned to that client on that shift.

      The new manager decided to become the “tsar” for this client rather than listen to the operators who wanted her to dump this client or at the very least, stop requiring operators to use their software. We could have done the jobs a lot quicker without having to use their idiotic system, and we did that for other clients.

      The manager had no idea what she was doing as the “tsar”, she had no idea what the client required or what the operator had to do and how difficult it was to do, and she never once sat down with the staff to try and work it out. If the operator was smart, they would pretend that the “system” was down, and do the work manually – it was a lot quicker and they could be back on the phones within 20 minutes instead of an hour or more.

      That manager did not last very long in the role and with good reason. :)

  12. themmases*

    If I were the OP and her colleagues, I would really be taking a second look at their relationship with their Presidents right now. Something similar happened to me once– no new manager, but a sudden reorganization and a change in which of the people above me would be more involved day-to-day. Like with the OP, the changes in my workplace were handled in a way that was kind of insulting and very micromanaging: wanting to track all my time down to the half-hour and have weekly meetings to set my priorities after years of high performance and virtual self-management. The explanation for these changes was unsatisfying and blamed a department head with whom we didn’t have much contact, but never gave a reason why this person would be unhappy either.

    It turned out to be complaints from the person I supported. While I thought I had a good relationship with Dr. X, I later learned that she had a history of turning on support staff and deciding that they could do no right. She wasn’t well-liked or even trusted by my peers– who failed to warn me because they didn’t want to sour our good relationship. As a bonus, by micromanaging me and a colleague Dr. X was able to interfere with the work of other physicians she considered rivals and whom we also supported. We never found any evidence that the department head who was blamed for the changes had done anything other than give Dr. X the influence over our program that she had wanted all along.

    I can see from the comments that my reaction (and so probably my experience) is pretty uncommon, but it really struck a chord with me so I thought I’d put it out there.

    1. Jeanne*

      I understand what you’re saying. I had a boss who would not be straight with me. She always said a colleague was complaining about me.

      In this case, there are 4 presidents, each with their own support person. It seems unlikely that all 4 presidents would operate that way, not being honest.

      1. themmases*

        Oh, I definitely would be surprised if it were all four. But these presidents seem high up enough that it would be more surprising to me if not one of them did know their own PAs were being reorganized. If all the PAs cover one another, it can only take one senior leadership person to say “I’m fed up with my PA, and Jane, Sally, and Emma don’t seem like they do much either!”

  13. Anna*

    I honestly believe in the explanation of why. Even cursory explanations are better than none at all. Giving no reasoning makes people feel like their input isn’t valued and that they have no say. It makes it sound like it’s coming from a position of “I’m in charge and I don’t like the way it’s done, so change it.” Some people will never buy in, but if enough of them do the naysayers will usually get in line. Big changes need larger explanations, small changes need smaller explanations.

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