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Seen in the right light, getting a new manager is an opportunity to shake up the status quo and begin anew. But without care, manager transitions can be disorienting and even demotivating — especially if they happen often.
Josh Bersin has said that becoming a people manager is the most difficult professional transition most people make. Sometimes, for team members, getting a new manager can feel equally difficult. Often, employees have even less support than managers do in understanding how to navigate the new relationship and make it positive and productive.
So, whether you’re the new manager coming in or the team member getting a new manager, have a little empathy and patience with the other. Read on for insight into what’s going on and how best to respond.
What's the worry?
The prospect of getting a new manager can be both exciting and anxiety inducing. To some degree, it matters whether you find yourself reporting to a new manager because you have moved into a new role yourself versus having a new manager hired in above you. Many of the concerns, however, are surprisingly similar.
The Members I work with often have concerns about having to prove (or re-prove) their capability and value to a new person. This can be especially difficult for people who were experiencing success or were very comfortable in their role. They also worry about whether their new manager’s style will be compatible with theirs, and if things will change, be it programs of work, priorities, ways of working, or the culture of the team. If performance reviews and salary reviews are approaching, they may be concerned that their new manager won’t know them well enough to be fair in their appraisals.
There can be a tendency to fall into all-or-nothing thinking when anticipating a change in management: we will or won’t be compatible (you’ll both adjust and find a way to work together). I’m afraid things will change (of course some will — that is the nature of work and life).
In managing the emotional impact, it is critical to apply a growth mindset and to stay curious and open. This may involve noting down both concerns and sense checking whether your concerns are facts or assumptions. For assumptions, how can you check their validity? For facts, what is the opportunity? What is within your control to influence or impact?
Sometimes when the manager is hired in above them, and the individual was hoping for the role themselves, they can feel overwhelmed with a sense of disappointment, injustice, and potentially anger to manage. The employee needs to process these feelings in order to develop an effective working relationship with the new manager. Strong unresolved and unacknowledged emotions will otherwise get in the way of the individual being able to learn and develop under the new manager, hurting their career and their team.
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How to make getting a new manager a catalyst for professional growth
A new manager is a wonderful opportunity for learning and development, as well as connection and networking. Again, curiosity and openness are important. A new manager is a window into how things have been done in other teams or organizations and what might be useful in your team, too.
Reflecting on what you do like about your new manager’s approach, and what knowledge and skills (both technical and people oriented) they bring will enable you to determine how they might support your development. Which of your strengths can they help you to develop further? How might they relate to your growth and aspirations? And where might they have some unique ability to mentor and coach you in areas you aren’t as strong yet?
You may also be curious about your new manager’s background and how that led them to their current role, highlighting career pathways you may not have been aware of. Finally, they will have networks and connections that in time, may lead to growth opportunities for you too.
So you have a new manager, now what?
From a practical perspective, a person getting a new manager should focus on what they can control and make the most of the transition period. If you aren’t happy about getting a new manager, it can be a good time to practice letting go of frustration or preoccupation with what you cannot control. Not only will it help you feel better, it’s also an important skill to develop for professional success. Leaders generally look for what they can make of any situation.
Think of getting a new manager as an opportunity to reset. Was there anything that wasn’t working previously that might be improved with the benefit of hindsight? A word of caution, a new manager isn’t a blank slate. They generally know something of the team, the roles and expected outcomes, but they also may be open to shaking it up.
The transition period is relatively short. Your priorities are to: 1) establish a relationship, 2) understand their working style, 3) convey what is important to you.
In establishing a relationship with a new manager, as far as possible, leave assumptions aside and approach your new manager with curiosity. If time hasn’t been set up for you, ideally block some time with your manager to get to know them. You might like to learn about their background, their vision for the team (if they know this – it may come later), their style and preferred ways to work. Do they like to develop ideas collaboratively or have individuals present more formulated plans? Are they casual, more formal, and how much does it depend on the situation? Are they detail-oriented or big-picture?
Don’t forget to think through what you want to let them know about you. That doesn’t mean a chronological history: what do you want them to walk away knowing about you, your style, and what gets you excited about the job? Keep it simple. What are your strengths? What do you enjoy? How can you support them? What type of support would you like from them? What is your style and your preferred ways of working?
Ideally, also think through what additional details you would share in order to let them know a little more about you as a whole person. If your manager asks you to tell them about yourself, what will you say? What’s important to you?