SAME JOB, NEW BOSS
BY KAREN FRITSCHER-PORTER
OfficePRO magazine, January/February 2004 issue
Your job hasn't changed. Your title hasn't changed. But your boss has changed. In fact, he or she literally has changed into a whole new person. Dealing with a new boss when your relationship with your old boss was good, perhaps even better than with the new boss, can be demanding, even stressful. On the other and, dealing with a new boss when your relationship with your old boss was bad, even worse, can be wonderful.
Either way, maybe your job description seems to be wavering and your new daily routine seems to be havoc. Are your perceptions and reality the same? Can you adjust to serving a new boss, for better or for worse? How? And when should you ever just throw in the towel and quit?
Consider these tips to adjusting to your new situation:
Start by thinking new boss, new person. "You have to make a mind shift to prepare yourself to say 'This is a new person,'" says career consultant and author Andrea Kay (www.AndreaKay.com). "If youíve liked your old boss, there is this tendency to want to compare and think 'Well, Fred didn't do it this way.' But you want to keep in mind going into this new relationship that this is a new person with a new way of doing things, maybe new priorities, a different personality, different tendencies, different ways of looking at the world, and different ways of treating people."
Get the edge. Use pre-boss research to your advantage by learning and negotiating through the boss' work style or temperament. If you've done your home-work by speaking with other people who have worked with him or her in another department or even asking your human resource office, you should have a clue, for instance, about whether the new boss has a bad temper or works 24/7 and expects the same from you, says Michelle Burke, founder and president of coaching and training company Executive Counterparts. "Be on the lookout to see what are the big differences between the two of you and how you can bridge those," says Burke, a former executive assistant. For instance, if youíve heard the boss has a trigger temper or blow-ups, nip it in the bud by saying early on: "One thing that works really well for me is if I haven't done something correctly or you need my attention, buzz me on the intercom. Or send me an instant message if Iím on the phone.'"
The same goes for picking up your children three days a week at 3 p.m. By the second day, you should mention that to a 24/7 boss, while also saying you can handle emergency assignments from home with your laptop or by occasionally coming back after hours. Be proactive and constructive in establishing your relationship early rather than waiting for a blow-up, Burke says.
Give the new boss space. After psychologically accepting that the new boss is a different person, you begin with an acclimation period, says Kay. "Going into this new relationship, the new boss needs some time to get acclimated herself; so don't expect to know exactly how everything is going to go. And if it's not going great at first, don't freak out."
"Give him or her a chance," says 25-year administrative support professional Diane Buzard CPS/CAP, whose manager at a pharmaceutical company was promoted and replaced by a former department supervisor. "It's new to them just as it's new to you. Everybody needs an adjustment period. Be open. If the new boss comes in with new ideas, you have to be open to their ideas just as they should be open to yours," says Buzard, who affirms that her new boss relationship was a positive experience for its five-year term.
Meet to set clear expectations. Sit down right away with your new boss to discuss expectations. And be flexible. Burke says expectations could be about working hours and particular methods for checking e-mail, keeping calendars, or handling phone calls. Initiate this meeting if itís not forthcoming from the boss.
"If you put it off a week, you already start to work the way you normally work with somebody. Then you're already probably going to have some conflicts along the way if there are some big discrepancies around how you worked with your old boss," Burke says.
After administrative support professional Debra Behler's boss in the marketing department at a consumer product manufacturer included her in all team meetings, she assumed team inclusion was part of her ongoing secretarial role. Inclusion in meetings let her know everyone's assignments and their timelines, making it easier to set administrative priorities to support the entire department. But then Behler's boss left the company and was replaced by a new boss who never met with her and seemed to pointedly exclude her from team meetings. Behler, who holds the CPS/CAP certification, didn't speak up but mentally registered it as a learning experience. With each new boss thereafter, Behler, a 25-year veteran in her profession who now coaches and writes resumes for administrative support professionals, initiated expectation meetings.
"I was with the company for 12 years and every time I moved or a new boss moved in, that was the first thing that I did. If the manager did not schedule a group meeting or a one-on-one when he or she was scheduling meetings with people, I would insert myself on the calendar somewhere and say 'You're meeting with John on Tuesday at 2, Betty on Wednesday at 9, and you're meeting with me at such and such time,'" Behler says. "If they raised an eyebrow, I'd say 'I want to talk about how things are going to go in the department with you, how you want things done, how I do things and find out if that is satisfactory, and how we should communicate with each other.' I developed a checklist."
Keep meeting. Behler didnít stop with the initial expectations meeting. She continued putting herself on calendars of all her new bosses monthly, even if just for 15 minutes, to discuss ongoing and often shifting priorities in the work schedule and company goals and objectives.
Burke recommends daily meetings between administrative assistants and their bosses, even if just for 15 minutes. She concedes, though, that even when her clients agree this is a valuable meeting, it often seems to fall by the wayside after a few weeks.
Meet to evaluate, assess, and shift. Not only can periodic meetings keep you and your new boss in synch with work tasks and deadlines, but initiating periodic evaluation meetings are also a good idea. Initiate these meetings within the first six months and don't wait for the official company performance evaluation period.
"You're meeting not just about overall goals," Burke says. "It's more about work style in terms of 'How are we getting along?' 'That's working well,' and 'We need to change that.'"
"Shift when necessary and do it wanting to do the best job possible," says Kay.
Don't assume; get clarity. When you're meeting with the boss, whether it's to evaluate or discuss upcoming tasks, get clarity when needed. Kay had a client who complained to her that his administrative assistant wasn't organized or efficient with her time because she interrupted him constantly during the day with drabs of information. The boss said he'd prefer she quit interrupting and tell him several work-related pieces of information at once. Though annoyed, he wasn't comfortable telling her for fear of hurting her feelings. "Sometimes the boss just never says 'Well, here is what I'm looking for,' Kay says. On the other hand, the assistant was confused by his increasing abruptness, assuming something was wrong but not asking. Kay urged the pair to communicate and clarify how the boss wanted things done, easily rectifying the situation to both parties' satisfaction."
Know that bosses lead. Let them. If you've been in your position for many years, you probably know the intricate workings of your office. Your first inclination with a new boss may be to take charge and show him how things are done around your office. You may even feel like this is a way to put your new boss at ease. It's not, and don't do it.
"Let them take the lead," says Kay. "Offer your help in any way, and let them know you are available. Say 'I'm happy to sit down and take you through the processes, procedures, and help you in any way I can.' But let them tell you what they want."
Besides, some things are better left unsaid when it comes to rehashing old procedures and policies that werenít efficient. "A lot of assistants I know see new management as a great opportunity to change some things," Burke says.
Never, never sayÖ It's natural to compare how a previous boss did something versus the new boss, says Kay. Just don't do it aloud. But if an issue arises about the way you did something, Kay says you can say, "When Jane was here, thatís how we did it," but only if you add "How would you like to do it?"
"Even comparisons that make the new boss look favored should be avoided since it could still be seen as criticizing someone (the former boss) who is not there to defend himself or herself," says Jan Yager Ph.D., consultant and author of Business Protocol: How to Survive & Succeed in Business. "Also be careful about how much or what personal information you share that is superfluous to your job," Yager advises. "You can always open up about yourself as time goes by, but it will be hard to take back information you share that is inappropriate or extraneous to your job."
Know deal-makers and deal-breakers. Prior to the initial expectations meeting, Burke says you should know your dealmakers and deal-breakers, with some alternative options. For instance, if you must leave early three days a week to pick up your children but offer to come in early those days, that's a deal-maker. A deal-breaker is if your new 24/7 boss says no.
Recognize it's working or not. Burke and Kay say clues that the new relationship is working are met expectations, good feedback from your boss, recognition for your work, and steadfast and timely communication and work flow, with few breakdowns.
It's not working when you dread going to work, says Kay, or you're complaining to family, friends, and coworkers. Thatís the time to sit down and evaluate what's changed and whether the situation is salvageable.
If you have a real difference in work styles with no middle ground, says Burke, and too many expectations on both sides arenít being met or deal-makers and deal-breakers can't be met, no matter how hard you try, then throw in the towel--but only after you've discussed options with your human resources department.
After Rosemary Deitzer CPS/CAP, then a 15-year administrative support veteran who worked for a large consumer product manufacturer, determined her new boss relationship couldn't be mended, she transferred from the department. "He criticized everything I did, needed to be in control right down to literally rearranging the pencils on my desk, tried to make me feel incompetent professionally, and when I'd approach him to try to communicate he'd say, 'I'm only trying to help you do your job,'" says Deitzer.
"There are some things you can do to better the situation if it's not working," Deitzer says, "but when push comes to shove, he's the boss. I can't change him; he can't change me."
-Karen Fritscher-Porter is a freelance writer in Bloomingdale, GA.