Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Working for a new boss – Part 3: when your new boss arrives from within the organization

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on October 1, 2010

This is my third installment in a short series on working for a new boss (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, postings 103 and 106 for parts 1 and 2). My focus here is going to switch from these postings to discuss the situation you would face in your career when your new supervisor is moved in from within the organization. And I start this posting by raising the issues of why you are getting a new boss. This directly impacts on how your new supervisor’s goals and priorities would be set, and on the preconceptions they would have about you and your team coming into their new job. Think of this as a core component of your own due diligence for moving forward effectively that you understand more fully the context that your new supervisor arrives with.

One aspect of this that immediately comes to mind is what happened to your now former boss. Did they leave through retirement or as a result of taking a new position with a different organization? Were they moved to a new position in the same organization and if so at what level on the table of organization? Was someone moved in as a part of a re-organization where the team you work on has itself been changed? There are a lot of possibilities here and I start with this as a means of clearing away what can be clutter and distractions. There are a set of underlying questions that are probably more important to focus on here instead.

• What are the most important goals and priorities that are currently unmet in your own work as a member of a team, and for the team as a whole? These are issues that you have to watch out for and particularly as you hold direct responsibility for completing them or for significantly contributing to their completion.
• Which of them are new and emerging issues, or issues that have taken significantly higher priority status concomitant to this transition? These are the issues where you have to reevaluate your own work goals and priorities for, to mesh with changing organizational goals and requirements.
• What new resources if any will you have access to for carrying out your perhaps shifting goals and requirements? This definitely includes direct access to human resources – the contributions of fellow team members and other colleagues, as well as access to hardware, software and expendable supply resources.
• What resources if any are you loosing access too, and this also includes human resources along with supplies and equipment, etc.
• Basically, what do you have to do and with what priorities that may or may not be different than what you were tasked to do before, and what resources will you have for doing this with, that may or may not match what you had available before?
• This calls for a candid self-evaluation as to what you have done and what you have focused on where some of the tasks you have focused on and even some of the ones you have excelled at may be taking on new priorities – and where you may have to start focusing your efforts in new directions to stay relevant as a member of your team.

And with this I bring up two possibilities that on their face sound very different but that in practice, at least in my experience, lead to the same results.

• Are you working in an environment where more senior management has seen significant failure to perform and meet goals and expectations?
• Are you working in an area where performance has been extemporary and where senior management has decided to devote more attention and resources to build on existing success?

As I said, these possibilities sound quite different, but the points they share in common can outweigh the real differences.

• In both situations, senior management is going to be watching performance and outcomes closely and they will be putting pressures on your new manager simply by virtue of that if in no other ways.
• In both situations you can expect changes in goals and priorities. The underlying rationalization and understanding of that held by senior management may be different, in one case addressing unmet pre-existing needs and goals, and in the other creating new performance benchmarks to work towards. But in either case you and the team you work on will be expected to do significantly more and probably significantly different as well.
• In both cases, initial expectations will be very high. This may be because of both past performance by your team and this can also come from the positive glow of expectations and good will that a new hire or promotion would start with. Or it might come primarily from the positive expectations that your new manager brings in with them (analogous to starting out with a positive balance in a bank account that they can add to or draw down from).
• In both cases you will have a window of opportunity to establish yourself with your new manager, and your new manager will have a window of opportunity to establish themselves with their new manager too – and for your team/their team to prove their effectiveness in meeting collective responsibilities.

I want to shift direction in this posting to finish it, with some thoughts on actually working with your new manager. First of all, your have to keep an open mind as to how much their experience at this company meshes with your own, and even for areas like shared corporate culture that are easy to assume to be more or less uniform across an entire organization.

• If the business you work with is geographically dispersed over a wide area and with facilities and staff coming from and living in different community cultures, you can find yourself facing real change if your new manager is brought in from a more distant location.
• If the business is organized into thick-walled silos each of these entities can develop its own corporate culture, or at least a significantly unique sub-culture and differences and surprises can happen when managers move between them – even if that new manager just comes in from a different floor in the same building.
• If your new supervisor comes in from a different functional area, differences can become very evident and that includes some potentially very important ones. At the very least, different functional areas can and do attract different personality types, and for attentiveness to detail, introversion and extroversion and a range of other personality qualities.

As a specific example of this that has played out for many organizations, when businesses first went online, the web and their web presence was largely viewed as a technical matter with emphasis placed on how this was done. The web site, like the email system was in effect owned by the technical web administrators and programmers. Information technology has its own mindset and culture and this colored how things were prioritized and done.

Businesses started seeing real success coming from their online presence, and as measured by the metrics that would catch favorable senior management attention, and one result of this was that senior management started to shift focus and priority in their online initiatives onto content and the what, as opposed to technology and how. And online became more and more a responsibility of Sales, or of Marketing and Communication – of some functionally defined group of content oriented people. People brought up professionally in these functional domains bring their own business cultural expectations and approaches with them that are generally distinct from those found in IT.

I have seen this particular shift in leadership play through quite a few times and have even participated in this type of process. Web teams and other online professionals suddenly find their manager is no longer an IT professional with an IT mentality and outlook and with How-oriented goals and priorities, and they are suddenly dealing with a manager who is What directed – and quite probably looking at the How as a pool of capabilities it may be more cost-effective to outsource!

In this case one of the questions you should ask yourself is what you do that is How oriented and what you do that is What oriented, that would more specifically and directly support the changing goals and priorities that your new manager brings in with them as their charter of goals and responsibilities, as established higher up on the table of organization.

I am going to pick up on this with a second major area of focus that you would be addressing as your due diligence in working with a new boss, in my next posting in this series – working with a new manager at the interpersonal level.

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