Onboarding your new boss: four ways to smooth the transition

Organizational change takes many forms. Previously I’ve written about hiring a dud, managing the squeaky wheel and getting laid off. Another form of org change we should all be prepared for is getting a new manager, either through growth or regime change. Here are four ways to help your new manager have a better first week than J Peterman did in this clip:

Even without a handbook for a new job, your new manager (let’s call him or her J in this example) probably has the same objectives as you would when starting a new role:

  • get settled and work productively
  • assess the situation and set priorities
  • build 360 degree relationships
  • make a positive contribution

To help J, and help yourself, make this transition as smooth as possible, here are a few ways to help J accomplish the objectives above. Of course, every individual has a different personality, and every organization has a different level of process maturity; consider how these two factors will shape your situation when you make your own action plan.

  1. Act as your new manager’s Concierge to manage the onboarding logistics. J is new to the organization, and you have probably already figured out the tricks for getting IT configured the right way, know the best person in HR to speed up the benefits enrollment paperwork, etc. Don’t keep these secrets from J; consider making a bulleted checklist of day 1, week 1, and month 1 actions to help J get settled and productive quickly. Carve out 5 minutes a day in J’s first week for “dumb questions” to remove any barrier to asking. Your help and foresight will be noticed.
  2. Prepare a walking tour of your goals, priorities, and opportunities. J has probably heard an earful or two of facts, wishes, and complaints from the executives who hired him or her. This is your chance to introduce J concisely to the goals and projects that are at the top of your list, summarize how your team allocates its time, and share some suggestions for improvement around the business. Remember that first impressions last forever, so don’t establish a reputation for whining or delegating up. A great way to have this conversation is to print out 5-10 powerpoint slides (a souvenir that J can refer back to later) that you can take along as you walk through your facility together, meeting people as you go.
  3. Help establish a 360 view of the organization. If J was lucky enough to get an org chart before day 2, odds are that it was inaccurate and unmemorable. No org chart can capture the balance of power and informal relationships between individuals and teams in the modern cross-functional, matrix organization. Be frank and objective with your characterizations of others. Take a conservative attitude and assume that anything you say about them will be emailed by J afterwards! These first introductions as you walk through the facility will help J demonstrate a proactive, hands-on style while also learning the physical layout quickly.
  4. Create space to make decisions and take actions that create positive buzz. Now that J has a sense of the priorities and people in the team, he or she will be eager to get involved and make a difference personally. If you have the projects in your area too “buttoned up” for J to contribute or if you insist on taking a leading, vocal role in all the meetings you attend together, you are inviting conflict. Provide pre-reads for J before meetings and create space in discussions for J to make informed comments. Along with enabling J to make contributions to the team quickly, you will learn valuable information about J’s leadership style, problem solving approach and communication techniques.

Your manager’s first week will be a test for both of you. Be patient, clear some extra time in your calendar, and try the tips above to help establish a trusting relationship that smooths the transition and shows you are capable of helping J lead the business as it moves ahead.


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