Getting a New Boss
Starting an Important New Relationship in a Positive Way
You may not have asked for it. You probably didn't plan for it. Yet, like it or not, your old boss is leaving, and a new boss is arriving to take his or her place. So, what's going to happen now? Does this mean that you'll also have to change your job? Or is this a good opportunity to make a great first impression, and potentially change the direction of your career?
Many people in this situation limit their thinking to what has changed about themselves – which, in this case, is nothing. However, a new boss will likely have different opinions, different policies, and even a different management style. The situation has now changed: if you simply keep doing what you did before, you're not facing reality.
You need to accept that this really is a new opportunity to make a first impression (this is one of the rare times that this possibility exists). But you also need to know how and when to act, as well as which problems to avoid. You don't want to overwhelm – or underwhelm – your new boss. There's a proper balance that you can find.
In this article, you'll discover what's usually important for new bosses, and you'll learn how to make a positive and appreciated contribution that's good for both of you.
So, Who's Really the "New Hire"?
In some cases, your new boss may be the ‘new hire'. However, you are also new to your new boss. In many ways, it's similar to when you first started your current job – you have to work to make a positive impression; and you have to be supportive, and prove yourself.
Whether or not you worked well with your old boss is no longer relevant. It's up to you to build a relationship with your new boss. Things will likely be different, so expect to change the way you work; and expect to experience a three-month adjustment period, during which you'll both "settle in" and get used to each other.
Your New Boss's Background
Your new boss may come from one of many different backgrounds. He or she may have been promoted from within the team or from elsewhere in the organization. Or your new boss may have had a similar position in another company – or even an entirely different role. This can lead to three possibilities:
- Your new boss understands that he or she doesn't really know the work you do, so the boss may look to you for help.
- Your new boss thinks he or she knows what you do, but doesn't. This person needs your help, but doesn't know it. Your goal is to educate tactfully, considerately, and sufficiently.
- Your new boss knows what you do, so you can focus on the other aspects of building your working relationship.
Even if your new boss knows what you do, this doesn't necessarily mean that you'll interact with this person the same way you did with your old boss.
Perhaps your old boss knew exactly what to do in all situations, because she did your job before you got there. But your new boss may have a more general management background. He or she may not have detailed knowledge that you can use to check your work, or may not be able to offer advice on specific topics (this can be particularly true if you have a technical role). On the other hand, this can be a significant opportunity for you to accept a new level of autonomy and responsibility – and get great career experience!
Making the Relationship Work
An important step in managing the relationship with your new boss is to accept it. Whatever you might have thought about other candidates for the job (including, perhaps, yourself), you must face the reality that your company made a choice, and you have to work with this new person. (If you were competing for the job, and particularly if your new boss is an ex-colleague, don't sulk about not getting the job yourself; and don't be disrespectful towards your new boss. If you do either of these, you're setting yourself up for conflict and failure.)
Some parts of this situation don't apply equally. You have one relationship to manage with your boss, but your boss has several relationships to manage with all team members. However, your relationship needs to be a top priority for you. Remember that your boss is also a "gatekeeper," with the ability to allow you – or deny you – access to a number of things that can impact your job satisfaction.
Our article Managing Your Boss discusses these situations as well as how to make adjustments for a boss's weaknesses that you may discover as the 90-day settling-in period continues.
Be helpful, but don't appear too eager. "Sucking up" may bother your boss as well as your colleagues. Offer your help, and then assess how your new boss reacts to your help: this will help you strengthen the relationship.
Helping Your New Boss Succeed
Your new boss will likely target several goals during the early weeks and months, because this will help confirm to upper management that they made the right hiring choice.
Our workbook Congratulations on Your New Role... Now What? covers this in detail, but we've summarized some of the information here. This is what your new boss is likely to be thinking – and it may therefore show you how you can make a positive impact:
- Building competence and learning the new role – This includes dealing with information overload and creating a learning plan.
- Learning about and understanding the team members – This means not only getting to know them, but also figuring out who the key players are.
- Creating quick wins to establish credibility – Credibility also means focusing on results that are important to the new boss's boss, and linking tangible results with longer-term business goals.
Necessary Conversations With Your New Boss
Here's a checklist of what you and your new boss should understand and agree upon as you get to know each other. These conversations can range from informal chats at the coffee machine to formal meetings in your boss's office or elsewhere. Use common sense, individual preferences, and mutual availability as your guiding factors.
- Determine how your boss views the current situation – Find out how your new boss sees things. For example, does your new boss think that the objective is to maintain a currently strong position or turn around declining performance? You may not agree on every point, but at least you'll know.
- Learn what your boss's expectations are – What does your new boss want from you now and in the longer-term future? How will your success be measured? If you understand what will help your new boss succeed (see above), this will help you relate to his or her expectations, while making sure that what's asked of you is still realistic.
- Figure out your boss's working style – What you do is important, but so is how you do it. You have your preferred way of working, and so does your new boss. Find out how your boss likes to operate, and show him or her how you like to operate. This will lead to a better chance of achieving more together – and a better chance that both of your careers will benefit.
- Determine what resources are available – If you need more resources or need to keep what you have now, let your new boss know.
- Establish opportunities for personal development – This is a mutual benefit opportunity. Ask if you can contribute to particular activities that will also help your career development.
Use good judgment as you have these different discussions. For example, make sure that you've already established sufficient credibility before you start a discussion about personal development.
When you get a new boss, you'll both go through an adjustment period, usually of about three months. This period is important for you, because it's an opportunity to build a strong and positive relationship with your new manager. Depending on your boss's profile and background, you may need to educate him or her on many things, including your own role in the organization. Follow our tips to succeed with your boss – and you'll help your boss succeed as well.