When a new leader comes into your organization, many aspects of the relationship are effectively outside your control. You may have little-to-no input into specifying job requirements, screening for style or experience, or figuring out how the job now varies from what your old boss was doing. Nor can you control what senior leadership wants from the new executive.
But you still have crucial perspectives on how to get the work done and how to function smoothly in your organization. Explaining the lay of the land to your new boss can help you create a solid, flexible team of two. There is real value in your job knowledge, understanding of organizational culture, and desire to succeed.
Back Your New Boss Up with Background Information
From the start, show that you’re committed to your new boss’s success and are already backing them up. You might say something like, “I want to fill you in on how things work here. I’m sure senior leader/human resources/etc. gave you a big picture overview, but I thought it might be useful if I give you some of the nitty-gritty about X.”
Then explain something concrete, like the operating calendar, cadence of work, approval processes, top-customer behavior, or some of the industry’s more obscure aspects. Your new boss might already have views about how to change everything, and may simply humor you as you describe how things really work, but persevere.
To develop a strong and trusting relationship, make it clear that you care about what they care about. This way, your boss will be more likely to recognize that you are experienced, helpful in navigating the organization, and will be working in partnership to move things forward — whether by blocking and tackling or managing important details.
To truly understand where your new boss is coming from, take time to learn about their goals, past experience, and assumptions. Ask explicitly how they prefer the timing and receipt of information: emails, texts, or daily morning standups? Also, find out how they want to hear about crucial exceptions or bad news: “Is it okay if I text you when we occasionally have a customer problem and I need quick authorization to make exceptions?”
Present Any Problems with a Positive Note
Once you have this background information, you’ll be on firmer footing when you need to discuss any problems, whether they’re cultural, interdepartmental, or other kinds of stresses that a new person might not want to know or take seriously in the beginning.
Over time, you’ll develop the standing to raise thornier issues: “I’m specifically bringing you up to speed on this situation so you have context when I have to ask for help getting resources/ensuring interdepartmental cooperation/etc.” Never whine, but on the other hand, don’t let them believe everything is going swimmingly when you know it’s not. You certainly don’t want them falling into a hole — or inadvertently knocking you into one.
Whenever you raise day-to-day issues, show the steps you’ve already taken to salvage the situation. Minimize the drama, and be factual and forward looking: “We’re already working on it. Here’s what we’ve done so far; now we’ll need additional insight/resources/etc. in the following areas.” Or: “I’ve done a review of the situation, and I’d like to share both the expected outcomes and the options for moving forward, so you can decide which direction you’d like to take.”
Help Your Boss Get Connected
There are two other important ways to get your new boss acclimated. First, help them build relationships with their peers. It’ll be bad for you if your boss is isolated, or lacks good-peer-to-peer relationships and positive collaboration with other department heads. So tip them off about the shifting coalitions that are necessary to getting the work done, being in line for resources, and building clout.
Second, help your new boss understand your team’s value and how to work with your teammates by laying out in broad strokes what your team will be doing for the next six to nine months, and in greater detail for the next few weeks. Don’t under- or oversell any team member’s skills and potential, but do describe their strengths and developmental goals. In the best-case scenario, your new boss will support your plans and also acknowledge and inspire your team.
It’s not easy getting used to a new boss, particularly when you’re the one with experience in the company. But if you take responsibility for helping your new boss get up to speed, you’ll accomplish much more together in much less time.
Onward and upward,