How do I persuade old guards to learn new tricks?
April 11, 2012 8:27 AM   Subscribe

My new boss is totally different from my old boss. Help me persuade my colleagues not to hate him.

I work in security at a small residential outpost in north-western England. Our work's never exactly been demanding; the residents are usually pretty easy people and we don't often have to call the police or summon the emergency services.

From when I arrived two years ago, we had a long-entrenched manager who had a very hands-off, laissez-faire attitude. As a result, nothing was done except what you brought directly to his attention, and my colleagues loved it- less work, right? They got on great with him. Regulations weren't enforced, security standards dropped, a few incidents occurred that you might argue would've been avoided otherwise. The workplace was generally disorganised, files got lost, things written down were left there for weeks and months.

Now we've got a new manager, much younger, coming from a hands-on retail background. He's high-powered, enthusiastic and competent; totally different from the old one. Even after three weeks, there's been major improvements; questions are being asked about sloppy standards, everything's being quietly and politely re-examined, the place even looks better-kept.

Here's the problem; my colleagues are security guards of the elder generation, all late 40s-early 60s guys. I'm barely out of my 20s, so I keep quiet and try not to make waves. They hate the new manager; maybe because he's not their buddy, or because he issues memos and wants them to work hard, or maybe just because he's so much younger than they are.

There's a really strong macho-buddy culture grown up in the security profession; it's difficult to get them to see that having high standards and organisation makes things easier for everyone in the long run. There's a lot of mutinous muttering, and I think they might start sabotaging things for him, (working to rule, demanding obscure contractual clauses get enforced, etc.) I'm trying not to annoy them, but I get on great with the new manager and love his approach. How can I talk to them and gently persuade them into at least seeing how the new approach works?
posted by malusmoriendumest to Work & Money (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You don't. And the reason you don't is that it makes you a target for your coworkers. You'll be branded as a management stooge or lackey. If you do anything to make the transition smoother, you speak to your manager about how his changes are being received. Do it privately, though, to avoid being branded as a sell-out.

But if they're going to be dicks and not do their jobs...they'll find out soon that the new boss isn't playing when he fires them.
posted by inturnaround at 8:33 AM on April 11, 2012 [12 favorites]

Stay neutral, or you will be perceived as teacher's pet. That may happen anyway, and heck, it might be more useful to your career to explicitly ally yourself to your boss, but I don't think there's a darn thing you can do to argue for his way in this crowd that isn't extremely likely to rebound negatively on you. They may come around with time, and effort on your boss' part. A word or two there to smooth the way may do more good, though that depends on whether the new guy can take a hint and won't react by trying to bulldoze them. But that's his battle, not yours.
posted by Diablevert at 8:38 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

You gotta let it go. Just keep your head down and do your job. If you like him, excellent. Get along great with him. Don't go out of your way to be his champion -- you never know how that could come back to bite you. And if they sabotage him? They get fired. End of story.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:43 AM on April 11, 2012

How can I talk to them and gently persuade them into at least seeing how the new approach works?

You don't, beyond mildly expressing your own opinion to them if they ask or talk about it in front of you. You don't try and persuade or otherwise make them react differently to the changes. This is what 'Managing' is. Some quiet feedback (nothing detailed or in depth) that you think needs addressing is maybe ok - as informally and quietly as you can do it - but this is not only not your problem, it is very much someone else's problem and a major part of their job.

I understand your enthusiasm, but you're stepping on other people toes with your intended course of action. Let your manager manage.
posted by Brockles at 8:46 AM on April 11, 2012

Being in this exact situation before, including the exact industry (so I understand the culture from living it myself), there is nothing you can do. Just sit back, enjoy the ride, and when the old guys lose their "hobby job" (because that is how they see it, trust me), they will wonder what the heck happened while you slide into the manager's right-hand man spot.
posted by TinWhistle at 9:02 AM on April 11, 2012

You don't. Getting in the middle of this is most likely to backfire on you, not help anybody else.
posted by sm1tten at 9:10 AM on April 11, 2012

You can't. And they would probably disagree with your description of the problem; true are not, they likely don't see themselves as lazy, fighting with the new manager only because he wants to give them work. You can't win here, especially if you engage them with the same tone you have here.

demanding obscure contractual clauses get enforced

They are going to see this as turnabout being fair play, and they'll have a point. You're not going to get anywhere with this.
posted by spaltavian at 9:13 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

The one thing you should do is make sure the new boss recognizes that you're on-board with his changes. Not in an ass-kissing way that might poison you to your co-workers, of course. Simply do your job they way he says to and make sure he sees you doing it. You need to make sure that you aren't simply lumped-in with the old guard if a clean-sweep comes along.

Who knows? If your co-workers see you excelling under the new methods, perhaps some of them might get the message and follow your lead?
posted by Thorzdad at 9:27 AM on April 11, 2012

Appreciate the advice, guys; this helps open the problem out immeasurably. Sticking with my policy of keeping my head down while making sure I do my job right looks like it's definitely the way to go.
posted by malusmoriendumest at 9:40 AM on April 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

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