We’ve all been there – a recent re-org or maybe your boss gets promoted or your boss leaves and you end up with a new manager. As I have mentored people over the years, I’d say that the most common reaction is “Crud! I have to start over.” But once you get past that moment of despair, are there things you ought to be doing?
The answer is obviously yes. When you find yourself with a new manager – whatever the reason – there are things you ought to be doing to make sure the transition is painless and occurs on your terms (or at least on terms you are ok with).
The first thing I always do when I join a new organization or I have a new boss is spend time putting together my charter. Depending on my role, this might be a charter for the team I lead or it might be a more individualized plan. Either way, the first thing you need to do is write down what it is you are responsible for. But why? Doesn’t the manager already know?
The reality is that while the change might be annoying to you, it is majorly disruptive to the new person coming in. They have a new team. That new team has existing projects, existing priorities, existing budgets, existing people, and existing problems. While the first few days are exciting, they can be downright dizzying for the new person. There is all this context that people have ingrained in their jobs and how they operate that needs to be transferred. Without that context, it is hard just to get up to speed.
If you take this chance to document your charter, you do a couple of things:
- First, you document what you are doing in a format that can be consumed offline. This is huge as it means the new person can review it when it is convenient to do so. And she can come back to it when she needs it.
- Second, you demonstrate that you have your stuff taken care of. There are lots of people and projects and group dynamics to worry about, but you have a handle on your business, which means the new guy is less likely to step into your kitchen unnecessarily.
- Lastly, you get to define what it is you do and how you want to do it going forward. It almost doesn’t matter if your charter is how things have always been or how you wish they would be, you get to write your own story.
The power of doing this is immense. Your first impression is not an awkward dance trying to get to know each other. Instead, you are demonstrating leadership, independence, thoughtfulness. These are the traits of a leader. In fact, these types of opportunities serve as playing field levelers when the new leader is unfamiliar with the existing team. This is an easy opportunity to get a leg up and set yourself up for future growth.
With that in mind though, you need to be aware that the stakes can be high. This is more than just sending an email that outlines what you do. You want use this opportunity to really make a great impression. What do you need to know?
- Timing matters. For this to make the largest impact, it needs to land during the most crazy time. Land this in the first week. Give yourself until the end of day Friday (even if it means staying late that week) and get the charter out.
- Format matters. If the lingua franca for your company is PowerPoint, then deliver your charter in PPT. If you work primarily in text or email, then deliver it in that format.
- Quality is everything. The goal is not to ship off a half-hearted effort to write down what you do. Make sure the charter is good. The slides ought to look decent if you are using PPT. The grammar ought to be correct. There should be a storyline that you are communicating. Make sure you land your points.
- Completeness helps. Even if you think you are including too much, go ahead and write it down. Think through what your new boss would want to know – what does this individual or team do? How is success measured? What are the existing priorities? What are the existing projects? What projects are next down the pike?
- Specificity makes it real. As you answer the previous questions, try to do so in a way that is specific and actionable. Include details where you have them. Even if the details don’t mean anything yet, they demonstrate a depth of thought that makes the entire exercise seem more real. High level frameworks are fine, but you need to demonstrate that you can convert theory into results.
If you are particularly crafty, print the work out and put it into a little folio that you hand-deliver at the end of the week. It’s Friday of week 1 and your boss has barely had time to think. You ask for 2 minutes at the end of the day. She is expecting yet another meeting. You walk in and explain that you thought it would be helpful if you captured some of most salient aspects of your responsibilities. You hand her a small folio, chit chat about how the week must have been exhausting, and then make a timely exit without ever having whined about the change or asked for more budget or heads. I guarantee you that your document or presentation or whatever gets read that weekend.
Most of us will naturally think about ourselves during these moments of change. We tend to make ourselves victims, which keeps us from doing the one thing that can turn this whole thing into a major win. I’ve personally felt that rug-out-from-under-you moment more times than I can remember (I had 13 bosses in my 12 years at Juniper), but where I took control of the situation and managed the transition on my terms, I was successful. Don’t be a victim when these changes happen; be the right-hand man the new guy is dying to have.