Hey New Boss: Push Change, Have Fun, But Don’t Diss the Team As You Do

My husband has this annoying habit of criticizing my television choices whenever he pops into the family room and sees I’m watching something he doesn’t like.

“Oh, you’re watching this again?” He’ll say, while grabbing up the remotes. Occasionally he’ll add, “You weren’t really watching that, right?” when clearly I was.

Five minutes ago this man was in a car driving home from work, in the kitchen eating a pre-dinner snack, or out in the back yard doing whatever it is men do in the back yard, but now here he comes, wanting to commander the best screen in the house.

But that’s not why I get annoyed.

There’s work already in progress here …

]I get annoyed because his attitude suggests that my job is to keep the couch warm for him while viewing shows he likes even when he’s nowhere in sight and doing something completely different. My job, to hear him tell it, is to make sure that when he’s ready to grace the family room with his presence, the television is already lit up with images he enjoys.

Hmmm ….

Brand new bosses can be annoying like that, too. Bear with me a moment while I explain.

I get it. Even the most accomplished managers can fall prey to starting that new job a little too anxious to prove to everyone that hiring them was the best management decisions ever. And so they might move a little too fast or be a little too quick to suggest changes or, heaven forbid, unfairly critique a process or procedure.

Building trust

But remember this, new boss — work was already in progress when you got here, and nobody was obligated (assuming it were even possible, which it isn’t) to do things the way you would have liked exactly in the manner you would have directed if only you’d been in charge.

In other words, it’s not a good idea to imply to your team that whatever they were doing before you got there was entirely not up to snuff, and you’re going to fix it all right now, by golly, because you’re the head honcho, and you take your job very seriously.

Oy vey.

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Listen, nobody takes her job more seriously than I do. I’m a serious person by nature, and sloppy work makes me nuts. That’s why I do what I do for a living.

But lighten up new boss! Even if you’re 100 percent right (and you could be, I’ll give you that), rushing in to make your team feel like a bunch of incompetents isn’t going to build trust, and it’s NOT going to get them excited about your vision, or your presence.

New Boss Do’s and Dont’s

Take it easy, please. And then check out these other New Boss Do’s and Don’ts.

  • DON’T start hunting for “problems” to fix. Problems will present themselves in due time, trust me. Also, there’s a difference between being proactive and looking for trouble, you know?
  • DON’T assume no sensible/capable/knowledgeable person would ever do that. There’s probably a reason such-and-such decision was made. And fine, it may be a stupid reason, but you can highlight the flaws in thinking later, with tact, and after you’d had a little time to establish some credibility and good will.
  • DO assume your team comprises bright, cooperative people eager to assist you to succeed. Ask for input. Listen. Don’t condescend.
  • DO proceed judiciously. Even if the department’s a mess, you don’t have to change everything at once. Manage the priorities and leave something for another day.
  • DO provide a shield. Maybe your new boss is the one freaking out, hoping and expecting you’ll plug all the gaps your predecessor left. Fantastic. You’ve got a prime opportunity to gain your boss’ favor for life. But don’t endeavor to make yourself look good at the expense of your team. Take a moment to discern what’s true, what’s false, and what makes sense before cracking that whip! And no, I’m not recommending you give your new boss an unwelcome dollop of pushback, but there IS a way to be agreeable without throwing your team under the bus. (And if hiring you really WAS the best management decision ever, you’ll find it.)

I’ve been there, OK? I’ve been the employee with the new OMG manager, and I’ve been the manager walking into a mound of crap and thinking “OMG!” I’m here to tell you there’s absolutely no reason you can’t learn from my mistakes.

All kinds of power

There’s all kinds of power, and the best kind comes when people willingly and happily follow where you lead.

New boss, you’re hurting your chances of that happening when you start the relationship denigrating the choices they’ve made and the work they’ve accomplished, especially if it later turns out you didn’t know what the hell you were taking about.

So don’t do that! You’ve got a great new job. Congratulations! Now have some fun with it — without dissing your new team in the process.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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