Thursday, February 12, 2009

An Emergency Checklist for When a New Boss Shows Up

It can take months or even years to establish a good relationship with a boss. There are bumps along the way, but in the end, you feel confident that your boss values your hard work and believes your contribution to the company is important.

Of course, that gives you some measure of confidence. After all, if your boss believes you to be valuable you might might be able to hang onto your job during these tough times. At the very least, you feel your relationship is good enough that you will be treated fairly if there are cutbacks.

Then one day you come into work and your boss isn't there. The news is soon delivered: Your boss has been laid off.

Oh, S**t! you think. Now what?

First, don't panic. There is a way to still protect yourself in this uncertain job market, but it means you're going to have to act fast to set up a relationship with the new boss that at least positions you not to be the most vulnerable to any "restructuring" or "downsizing" -- or whatever they want to call being kicked to the curb.

I understand you will be in shock, so I'm going to give you an emergency checklist you should follow in the event you get a new boss:

1. Do your homework. Go online and read a LinkedIn profile and search out industry news on the new boss. Make phone calls to contacts who know her well -- don't bother with those who haven't worked directly for her or with her. You want to know specifics about her management style reputation as a boss. Try to get an idea of her pet peeves and her personality so that you can understand how to get off on the right foot immediately. Ask: "What is she like to work for?"

2. Scout the team. Sometimes bosses like to work with the same people. When they move, they may take certain team members with them. By looking at her work history, can you see a pattern where the same people follow her? Will any of those team members be able to possibly replace you? Making a good impression on her "favored few" will be important.

3. Be ready to race. In this economy, no boss has months or even weeks to get a feel for a new team. She is going to be making decisions quickly about who stays and who goes, so it's critical that you be ready to hit the ground running. If you've done your homework, you already know her likes and dislikes. When you have your initial meeting with her, you should be able to formulate your answers into something that makes her comfortable with you -- a key if you're going to make it on her team.

4. It's a job interview, stupid. Don't feel like doing a background check on the new boss is somehow underhanded. She will have plenty of material at her disposal regarding your work performance, and may even have Googled you. This means that she knows exactly what mistakes you have made, what are your weak points and what you've done to help the bottom line. Be prepared with answers -- just like you would in a job interview -- about what you've learned from your mistakes, how your skills are exactly what the company needs and the specifics of how your efforts have made a positive impact.

5. Offer to help. Bosses these days are under enormous pressure to produce results, and also are anxious about making sure they have top performers on their team. Still, if they're new they're going to have a learning curve. Jump in and offer to help by acquainting her with other department's key players, office political structures and other potential land mines. A new boss always appreciates a worker who is willing to share knowledge and help her get off to a good start.

What are some other ways to put yourself in a good position with a new boss?

Lijit Search


Anonymous said...

When my (fantastic) boss retired about 2 years ago and her replacement was hired, everything changed. Our team of 6 people had to make drastic adjustments to the way we worked because our new boss was the complete opposite of our former boss. (Former boss: teamwork, empowerment, communication, leadership, friendship, teaching, customer service, respect, loyalty. New boss: none of that.)

I work for a public agency and our team has an excellent reputation, so there was little danger that any of us could lose our jobs. So we didn't panic because of that... but we did panic once we realized our "dream jobs" disappeared because our great boss disappeared.

It's amazing how much influence one person can have on your job satisfaction. I advise people not to get too comfortable in their "dream job" and to always be ready for new opportunities for this exact reason.

Anyway, while our team will never regain what we had with our former boss, we've lowered our expectations (sad, huh?) and adapted to the new boss. Your Tip #5 has been the key. Because of the teachings of our former boss, we're all very good at helping others. Helping our new boss to be successful makes us feel better about ourselves and the work we do. And when the boss is happy, he's easier to work for. :-)

I know this long comment gets a bit away from the point of your article, Anita. But (besides venting a bit) I wanted to share that even when you have job security, a new boss can turn your work world upside down. Responding in a positive way (versus constantly bemoaning the loss of what you had, and rebelling against the changes) can help you keep your sanity -- at least until a better opportunity presents itself!

One more tip: Don't try to "change" your new boss to make him/her more like your former one. Been there, tried that, absolutely doesn't work. :-)

(I'm gonna be "Anonymous" this time for reasons I'm sure you'll understand.)

Anita said...

Dear Anonymous,
I don't mind the longer comment at all -- you had an important story to share, and I appreciate it.

I, myself, have been in situations where my boss thought I was wonderful. Then, a new boss came in and suddenly I was full of bad habits. I quickly learned that once I adapted to the new boss and figured out what his or her pet peeves were (and made sure I didn't do them), I was suddenly wonderful again.

Employees often have to be chameleons -- adapting quickly to their environment in order to survive. You don't have to change who you really are (still helping co-workers, doing quality work you love), but this is a fast-changing world. As Darwin would have said, only the strongest survive.

Anonymous said...

I haven't had a new boss or any boss in almost thirty years, Anita, so I don't know. However I'm now considering tip #1 in regard to new clients. I tend to make all my judgments based on that first phone call. And I'm surprisingly lucky in that regard. I almost always get fantastic clients. But every now and then that first impression fails me. Maybe if I did a little more checking my track record would get even better! I would like that!! :)

Anita said...

Thanks for pointing out that this strategy could work for anyone, whether they're employed by someone else or just considering a new client. All the more reason for us to make sure we have a good professional reputation -- no telling how that might impact our future when someone "checks" us out!

Anonymous said...

I would also add giving them time to settle in before asking for them to reclassify your position or give you a raise. They need to have time to see what you're capable of and to get a grasp of the job, organizational structure, and everything else that goes along with being a newbie.

Anita said...

Great suggestions. As frustrating as it may be for you, it's important to realize that while you may have proved your worth to the old boss -- you're going to have to start over and do the same for the new boss.

Anonymous said...

It's funny, I actually have a same story with "Anonymous". I had a very great boss and when he left, a new one was appointed. The latter turned my world upside down because he represents everything that is not my former fantastic boss. I have tried rebelling, crying, griping and all those coping strategies to make my life easier but no such luck. Until today, he drives me absolutely mad!

I have tried looking for other opportunities within the company as I have isolated the reason why I was misearble: it's really the lack of the "nurturing" skill of my new boss which the previous oozes of. He claims he trusts his team to do an excellent job, yet he micromanages and pounds us to produce results that is obviously out of the picture because of constraints in resources, etc. He also makes off-handed remarks that slightly insult us personally and he discredits us.

Anyway, the best thing I can do now is to not let it affect how I perform, because at the end of the day if I did something wrong, I will be the one who will suffer.

Anita said...

I'm not really sure how "crying, griping and rebelling" are going to help you with a new boss. In fact, I'd say that's just what you shouldn't do. I would suggest you meet with your boss one-on-one and sit down and ask him some questions:
1. What is his most important objective right now?
2. How can you align what you do with helping him meet those goals?
3. How best does he like to be communicated with? Daily? Weekly? By e-mail? Report in person?

You're probably going to have to meet with him several times if he's a micromanager. But if he sees that you're always aligning yourself with him, it's going to help.

Does that excuse his bad behavior? Absolutely not. No boss -- or anyone -- should be allowed to belittle or berate or otherwise be a butthead to someone else.

But in this tough economy, you've got to do what you can to survive. As much as you can, put yourself in his shoes and realize that it could be the pressure of this difficult business climate that's helping fuel his behavior.

Good luck and thanks for sharing your story.