How to be a good "new boss"
November 16, 2009 2:00 PM   Subscribe

I am your new boss. How can I get our relationship off to a good start?

I am starting in a few weeks. I'll be starting work as the "new boss" supervising a current staff member. I'll also be beginning to hire two more staff at that time.

In the meantime, we're going to spend a few hours together next week touring their geographic area. (I just happen to be in town for a conference, so I won't officially be "the new boss" at that point, since I won't be on the payroll yet.)

I would appreciate any suggestions you might have for getting this relationship off to a good start, both during the tour and as I officially begin work. What have past "new bosses" done that particularly worked well for you?

I saw this question and will read this book. What else?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (33 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Clear standards help me a lot. If you always want to be notified if X happens, or always want me to deal with Y-type problems on my own, let me know. Getting to know people and taking an interest in them always helps, though the level at which this happens always seems to vary from workplace to workplace.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:16 PM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

I would ask the existing staff member: "What has worked and not worked in the past? Are there any stupid conventions we should discard, or anything we're doing in an overly complex or costly way?"
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:17 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Take an interest in the person and their work.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:17 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Talk less and listen more. And when you listen, listen.

And your talk, as craven_morhead says above, is setting clear standards on what you expect.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:20 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Manager Tools basics. Start building a relationship with one on ones. Use consistent feedback to tell me what you want me to do. Delegate stuff my way so I know how I can help you.

The benefit of the manager tools podcasts is that they contain specific, actionable recommendations. A lot of folks say "take an interest in your employees," but there's something to be said for a specific process for doing that.
posted by bfranklin at 2:24 PM on November 16, 2009

Oh and, the way I tell if a manager is any good or not? If they have shit like Who Moved My Cheese? sitting on their desks. If they do, I ignore them for the rest of my period of employment.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:25 PM on November 16, 2009 [11 favorites]

Honestly, just be upbeat and friendly. I don't think a first meeting is the time to start laying out groundrules. In fact, I wouldn't talk that much about work. Just get to know them. Go get a beer or something.
posted by xammerboy at 2:26 PM on November 16, 2009

Be friendly, unbiased and open to ideas. "How can we make the department better?" etc.

My boss takes a personal interest in me and my life. I love that. He also has an open door policy and is available to his employees if we have issues, complaints, suggestions and ideas. I love that, too.

Don't micromanage. Get an idea of what your employee/s can handle and let them do their thing. Check up once in awhile, or have them e-mail weekly/bi-monthly/monthly/whatever reports. Make it clear what information is important to you so they're wasting their time - and yours - by loading you up with useless information you don't care about.

On the tour: The tour is your chance at making a first impression. You may not be on the payroll, but you should definitely have the 'boss-mode' on. Ask questions that will help you in your new role.
posted by caveat at 2:29 PM on November 16, 2009

Once I did a dreadful temp gig for a couple months. I would have been terribly alienated from it, except for one thing. The guy who hired me set aside over an hour when I first arrived to get to know me. He was even interested in what I was studying--things that were irrelevant to the job.

The work was still completely uninteresting, but I didn't slack, because this guy who didn't have to treat me like a human did anyway.
posted by umbĂș at 2:30 PM on November 16, 2009

If you give me responsibilty, back it up with authority and resources.

Example, if I'm in charge of shipping widgets, make sure I have and/or can get widget appropriate boxes.

If i cant easily get boxes, Do Not be angry when I ship 4 widgets in a box that's the right size for ten widgets because there is no way to get an in-between sized box.

See also, postage, packing tape, and foam peanuts.

In order for the above to be successful, you need to know what I do all day. Not what my job description says I'm supposed to do, because ever JD I've ever seen has that bs line about 'additional tasks as necessary.'

Building on that, don't allow the only non-coffee drinker in an office to be forced into making coffee. If that person must make the coffee, none of the coffee drinkers are allowed to complain about the coffee. If they complain, they are immediately in charge of all future coffee making. (ya, ok, I'm still bitter about that.)

Next. Don't criticize me in front of coworkers, nor in front of customers. Definitely don't be critical of me to my coworker peers behind my back.

Finally. Thank me for my help every day and offer constructive criticism before something gets out of hand.

Lastly (for real) listen when I make suggestions to streamline a process. Don't tell me we're going to keep the old way because it's always be done this way. The corrolary (2 rs or 2 ls?) to this is, you're new, only change a few things at a time. Start small. Don't shake up vacation time, ink colors, ordering schedules, and daily tasks all at once.
posted by bilabial at 2:33 PM on November 16, 2009

The best boss I ever had was a guy who never got angry at his staff, no matter what. His tone and demeanour was always civil. And in return he knew that we would always do our best and if we had fucked up, we knew we could tell him we had done so without fear, so that we could fix the problem together. This kind of attitude was also great because it removed some of the doubt employees often have when submitting work to the boss (ie; "Is this right? Oh god I hope it's right or else the boss will yell at me. Y'know what, I'll just edit it again for the millionth time because I think my boss will yell at me..").

He treated me and the rest of the team as equals, despite the fact that he had a lot of power. He joked around with us (one Easter he put on some fluffy bunny ears and walked around the building handing out chocolate eggs) and, through his office manager, organised staff dinners, which he also attended.

Basically, treat your staff as actual human beings. Make sure they know you expect their best and for them to work hard, but by being understanding of the things that pop up in their lives, treating them as equals instead of subordinates and taking the time to socialise with them will go a long way towards them thinking you're a great person to work for.
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:35 PM on November 16, 2009 [5 favorites]

I advise to let yourself get up to speed and trust the people who have been there before trying to change anything. I think empowering people to do their jobs is the biggest thing. I've known managers who swear that they don't micromanage, only they do and it's pretty demoralizing and demotivating (they may not do it the way you would have done it, but that doesn't mean they did it the wrong way). If you begin by trusting people to do their jobs (unless proven otherwise) and consider it your job to give them tools to do it you'll be off to a great start. Also, if you want to do something a certain way, tell them that and explain why (as appropriate) rather than asking for their opinion and then overriding them.
posted by Kimberly at 2:37 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

My dream boss:

1) Friendly, but doesn't want to be my friend. You can't be friends with someone who has the power to fire you, really, and he knows this. Doesn't add me on Facebook. Doesn't discuss politics or other controversial issues as if he is at the bar with his buddies. Knows where the boundaries are.

2) Let's me know what to expect. Doesn't smile and pretend everything is great, then blow up 3 months later over something I didn't even know he didn't like. (This relates to #1, because "cool" boss always turns into "takes things too personally and blows up in a scary way" boss sooner or later.)

3) Gets out of my way and trusts me to do the job I was hired to do. Isn't over my shoulder every four seconds.

That's all I really want, to be treated professionally and like a grown-up.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:41 PM on November 16, 2009 [8 favorites]

Stand up for your people (if applicable). If they are rightfully upset about something, you should be rightfully upset -- and not just consoling and commiserating. You are their representative to a degree.

Plus everything drjimmy11 said --"That's all I really want, to be treated professionally and like a grown-up."
posted by wrok at 2:47 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh and this is a little specific to what I do (programming), but I think it could be generalized:

All other things being equal, Give them the equipment they like using:

WRONG: We use Eclipse on Mac here.

RIGHT: What OS and development software do you like? We'll get it for you.

And finally, just ask if there is anything else you can do. There might be something small that will literally make the difference between the guy hating and loving his job. For me, this thing is having a desk with some privacy, vs a place where people are walking behind me and looking over my shoulder all day. I know I can't always be a special snowflake, but if a boss even made the effort to find out where I preferred to sit, I would love him forever. If he made me feel like a dick for bringing it up, I would know I didn't want to work for him longer than I had to.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:48 PM on November 16, 2009

Oh one more thing:

To quote Tom Hanks in "Saving Private Ryan," "gripes go up the chain of command."

As subordinates, your workers get the right (within reason) to complain to you. You don't bitch down to them, even when you get crap from above. Actually, your job is to shield them from as much external BS as possible and let them get on with their work.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:52 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

In order for the above to be successful, you need to know what I do all day.

Oh yeah, make sure you know who does what and learn who would be the best person to ask a certain question. With only 2-3 people, it should be easier to do that than with a larger team. Even though my team has only 5 people, it still amazes me how often we are asked questions about something that is someone else's job, even by our own bosses. "I can guess, or work for two hours to get you that answer, but Bob over there does a weekly report with those numbers in it."
posted by soelo at 2:53 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

How do you want me to contact you for day-to-day questions and reports? Do you want me to call you? Email? IM? Walk into your office? Let me know so I know I'm not irritating you.
posted by desjardins at 2:55 PM on November 16, 2009

As someone who just got a new boss recently (who is very nice!), my biggest questions going in were:

1. Is she nice?
2. Does she understand what I do?
3. Is she going to micro-manage me?

Beyond that, I just wanted to fill her in on how things worked, give her an idea of what I thought could work better, and then get on with my job.

I think the most important thing is to find out the talents, day-to-day work, and general skills and interests of your staff as a first priority. I've seen bosses before who never even bothered to ask, and just worked on assumptions, and it didn't go well.
posted by ukdanae at 3:09 PM on November 16, 2009

I would document what you learn about each member of your team and keep a written document as you go along for each person that documents their strengths and weaknesses as time goes by. Don't rely on memory for this as everyone you supervise will be changing themselves over time. One person that is short tempered may mellow out, and someone that seems like they have it all together may end up falling about under work or personal pressure. Basically, keep a journal/database for your own use for this. Know that your employees can change and may have different things to offer over time. And note that you may change your perceptions along the way about them and their skills so it is good to note them as time goes by to see these kinds of changes in yourself as well. In mild ironic contrast, what everyone else says here is that YOU must remain consistent in your expectations and standards, and if you need to change them (or YOU yourself begin to have changes in who you are and thus how you do your job) then it should be done in person with everyone you supervise there to communicate that expectations and standards are changing and provide the case for the changes or simply provide the reasons for the changes if they are dictated from someone above you, but make sure they know and know that YOU know.

Day-to-day reports probably are best done in email, but you should try hard to meet face to face even briefly once a week, but that should be scheduled ahead of time or it starts to make you look like you don't notice that they are working and that YOU have too much free time on your hands.
posted by smallerdemon at 3:15 PM on November 16, 2009

That's all I really want, to be treated professionally and like a grown-up.
To quote Tom Hanks in "Saving Private Ryan," "gripes go up the chain of command."

These two things are probably my two biggest pet peeves with supervisors. Don't do it. Nobody appreciates it, and all you will do is drag your section's performance down.
posted by doh ray mii at 3:42 PM on November 16, 2009

What drjimmy11 said: topcover. Inherent in those things for me are autonomy and clear expectations. Here's what you'll be responsible for, here's the areas where we need to play it pretty much by the book, and here's where I trust you to exercise your own judgment & experience. And then back 'em up.

If the book you're going by is wrong, then encourage them sit down and rewrite it. Then your responsibility is to give them the perspective and guidance to take it up the chain, with your support.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:11 PM on November 16, 2009

Buy me lunch at a decent restaurant.
posted by gnutron at 4:28 PM on November 16, 2009

"Teach me how to do your job."
posted by rokusan at 4:35 PM on November 16, 2009

Lots of good advice about being a boss. If you are asking about the actual transition, I've always found that jumping in and "cleaning house" and changing a bunch of procedures and what not rarely works. Unless you were brought in specifically for that. Even then, my advice is to go slow. Learn how the department works, get used to doing you own stuff, and build trust with the rest of the team. As they bring daily issues to you and you help them, they start to trust you and a rapport builds. Then implement any changes that you see fit to implement. Perhaps, depending on the situation, have a meeting to talk about the idea and see how such a change might work, or if it has already been tried.
posted by gjc at 4:42 PM on November 16, 2009

Praise in public, criticize in private.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 4:44 PM on November 16, 2009

Take a communication skills class. Learn about different communication styles (e.g., I-Speak, Myers-Briggs).
posted by matildaben at 5:10 PM on November 16, 2009

High expectations. I work my hardest when someone lets me know they expect the project to succeed at high levels, and that they trust me to run the project. For sanity, combine this with support for setting realistic goals and with reacting well when challenges come up.

Honesty. Over time, my respect grows as I realize someone will tell me what they really think.
posted by salvia at 5:14 PM on November 16, 2009

Ask for their input and take it into consideration. Each employee should have a mission statement (preferably in writing so you can both refer to it later if needed) and a clear sense of purpose.

Also, say what you mean and mean what you say. A boss who will not follow through or cannot make a decision is nearly intolerable in my book. Praise more than you criticize. Encourage and reward team work!
posted by momzilla at 6:00 PM on November 16, 2009

Just a couple of things really, in my opinion, beyond basic decency:

Clarity - who on the team will report to who, how much email etc you want to be copied on, who will attend meetings, how often you want them to check in, when the deliverable's due on your desk, whatever. Vagueness, mixed messages, cc'ing someone on emails without direction about what you want them to do and so on can be a bit of a nightmare.

Communication - be honest about what's going on, keep your team in the loop, address performance issues immediately and directly. I had a couple of bosses who told different staffers different stories. They lost a lot of respect (and some key employees).
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:38 PM on November 16, 2009


Really listen.

Go into conversations expecting that your employees may have better answers than you do.

Remember that your job isn't to get work done, it is to ensure that your employees have the tools they need to get their work done. Your job is to build the team.
posted by meinvt at 7:57 PM on November 16, 2009

1) I would prefer that you don't try to be my friend. You are my boss. We can have a relationship that is friendly and warm, one that is cordial but distant, one that is strictly business, or anything in between, but that should arise naturally as we get to know each other and *should not change our working relationship.*

2) If you want to reward me, take the time to learn what I want as a reward and give me that. Forcing your introverted employee to go to endless mandatory "happy hours" is not a treat for them. Not even if you pay. Not even if YOU think they are fun.

3) Be honest and clear. I want to make you happy but I cannot read your mind. Give me clear and specific expectations. If I ask for clarification, do not make me feel like I'm stupid for not understanding you the first time. If I ask clarification every time, ask me if there is a way you can give instructions that works better for me.

4) Give timely, specific, and honest feedback. I once worked on a project where we were developing a large document. We presented a proposed outline, and then a detailed outline, and then a draft, and then the final document. After approving every step and draft and giving little feedback, the client rejected the final document. When asked why, we were told "it's just not right, somehow." I came within a hairsbreadth of quitting my job and was severly demoralized for months afterward. Lesson? If you don't like something, SAY SO. And help me figure out a plan to fix it. As early in the process as possible.

5) Be accessible but don't hover. Tell me what to do but not how. Have a standing one-on-one meeting with me where we can talk about my work and how it's going. Give me autonomy within our pre-agreed framework.

6) Be flexible and understanding and fair. If I am overworked, reshuffle my workload. If I put in a ton of overtime, give me comp time when the deadline's done. That will make me far more likely to be willing to do overtime again for your without resentment.

7) Give me credit for what I do.

8) When you screw up, take responsibility for it. If your mistake had negative consequences for me, apologize. This will earn you undying respect and devotion.

9) Treat me like I matter. Don't show up late for our meetings every time or constantly reschedule at the last minute.

10) Show a united front with me. Don't correct or contradict me in front of someone else. Protect me from the political or administrative crap that is above my pay grade. Be on my side, and I'll be on yours.
posted by oblique red at 12:48 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Connect as human beings first - a group lunch in a moderately noisy place so you can all relax.
During the lunch, tale the time to make a toast and a small speech about how happy you are to meet all of them, that they should feel free to talk to you about anything yadda yadda.

Since you have a small team, you can then schedule one-on-ones with your team members to go over ther current roles, as well as any ideas they might have about improving things in their area, or ambitions within the department.

Then a team meeting in which you outline your management style, expectations, etc.

and what everyone else said about: promptness, taking responsibility, listening, etc.
posted by Billegible at 3:58 PM on November 17, 2009

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