Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Managing change

Tips for adjusting to a new boss

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As a reader, you often see news articles directed to newly appointed leaders on how to survive and thrive the first 90 days after their appointment. And, with a high percentage of leadership failures within the first 18 months, new managers need all the success strategies they can get.

Typically, the first piece of advice for a new manager is to quickly gain the trust of employees and key stakeholders. This is accomplished by paying close attention to the organizational culture and learning what current practices and behavioural norms exist.

In addition, it's recommended new leaders put on a "learning hat" and invest time in learning more about their new employer by determining which current lines of business or programs and services are successful; the time, energy and resources required; and the status of the various human-resource systems in the organization. And when a plan is structured, new leaders are wisely advised to communicate, communicate and communicate.

The advice for the new manager is ideal. However, what about the employee's take on things? What should employees do during the first 90 days with a new leader?

First of all, let me say organizations strive to find leaders who either fit their corporate culture and/or will deliberately change the corporate culture. So, if an employee is fearful of the new leader and unhappy with their potential leadership, I suggest they look at the organization culture as a whole because, believe me, culture always wins.

So the challenge for every employee is to examine if they will personally continue to fit into their corporate culture. If not, the employee has a responsibility to herself and her career to examine what she want to be doing and which organization culture best suits her. After all, why would anyone want to stay in a job in which they cannot get any personal satisfaction and a sense of achievement?

At the same time, there are some strategies an employee can take to move smoothly through the first 90 days after the arrival of a new boss. The goal, of course, is to survive and thrive in the new environment. The following tips should be helpful.

Maintain a positive attitude -- A long-standing rule of thumb is a positive attitude attracts while a negative attitude repels. Therefore, choose to act positively toward the change in leadership by helping your new boss feel welcome. Get to know him or her as an individual; offer to help teach him or her more about the organization and seek opportunities to be part of the new team. Be an optimistic observer while building your own personal credibility. Stop any negative thinking in its tracks by writing down your objections and comparing them to the positives.

Recognize the change cycle -- No matter whether the change is big or small, positive or negative, you'll still feel a sense of loss that signals you are out of your comfort zone. For instance, if you take on a new role, you'll be giving up your old role and will feel a sense of loss that may result in anxiety. Recognize the cycle is normal. However, if your sense of loss is extreme and lasts several months, then get counselling to help move through the various stages of your grief.

Different doesn't mean bad -- Good leaders who are strongly self-aware use a flexible leadership style. For instance, they may need to be more directive in one situation while being collaborative in another. Still others are much more participative on the long term. Observe the new leadership style and determine how you can be flexible to match their needs. Keep in mind different doesn't mean wrong or bad and it doesn't mean you can't work together.

Manage stress -- Develop personal resilience and take care of your stress. This means understanding your pressure points and recognizing when stress is building up too much. Focus on what you can control and what you can't. Determine if you are worrying and engaging in over-generalizations and personal "put-me-downs" that tend to scare you. Be sure you are grounded in your thinking and have a realistic perspective.

Be your best -- Just as you'll be observing the new manager, he/she will also have their eyes on you. Your manager is looking for a team that will excel under their leadership, so be sure to work toward being part of that team. Keep your skills current, do your job well, offer to take on special projects and meet all your deadlines. This is your chance to shine.

Request a private meeting -- Ask to meet your new boss to discuss a personal issue. Present your issue in a strategic manner that reflects consideration for both the organization and yourself as an employee. Describe your situation, how you perceive your issue, how you feel about it and then seek help in addressing the issue. Always stress your goal is to be a good contributor to the organization. If you are not of the assertive type and/or are reluctant in any way, rehearse at home, but be sure to be crisp and clear and avoid wandering away from your topic. Seek direction and ask for clarification of expectations. Thank the new boss for their time.

Give the leader a chance -- While new leadership often causes anxiety, resigning your employment too quickly without giving the new leader a chance isn't wise. This is, of course, unless you are familiar with the individual and are confident you can't work with him or her. A new leader usually starts making change in the organization after approximately three months of his/her employment. Keep in mind, as well, you aren't the only person going through change. In fact, everyone, including the organization, is going through change. Stay in tune with what is going on and monitor the change process as well as your own anxiety. Review the situation in one year and then make a career decision.

Adjusting to a new leader isn't as easy as some people think, but if the adjustment isn't made, then your career may be at risk. Once again, this is a career-management issue. If you are not happy, you must take control and find a workplace where you can excel. On the other hand, with most leadership changes occurring every 18 months to four years and general organizational changes occurring on an ongoing basis, individuals must develop resilience and flexibility in order to survive for the long term.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed is president of Legacy Bowes Group and president of Career Partners International -- Manitoba. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2014 H1

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