First Day Advice
August 24, 2007 12:05 PM   Subscribe

First day of work at new job, tips please...


I am starting a new job next week as a senior finance manager, responsible for 8 direct reports in a company that has had some issues with previous incumbents.

These Issues were of poor work standards and poor team building. The team have levels of sick days, high staff turnover and no work has been done at the company for a few months on some key issues.

Now, my style is pretty relaxed...but I dont want them thinking that they have got an easy run, because they haven't - if they perform well, they will be rewarded with a great boss...if not then they will be moved on, efficiently and within UK employment regulations.

I would appreciate some ideas on how I should act though, other than being myself, over the first day and then maybe the ensuing weeks to best enamour myself with the direct reports, owners of the business and other members of the workforce.

Cheers for the thoughts

posted by trashcan to Work & Money (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Seems a no brainer but set very clear expectations the first day and hold them to them. If you say you expect x to be done and x isn't completed hold them accountable.
posted by Octoparrot at 12:35 PM on August 24, 2007

Rewarded with a great boss? Even if there have been serious underperformance issues, big sticks usually need to be balanced with at least some kind of actual carrot.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:39 PM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sounds like more of the same in store for the employees in question. The description sounds like the classic saw with a humanist twist: The beatings will continue until productivity improves.

My suggestion as an underling is not to spend as much time "being yourself," and more time figuring out what your employees need to become more engaged with their work. Also, you might put some time into thinking about whether the company has a habit of hiring managers who are destined to exhibit "issues" as an incumbent. That is, the traits that you were hired for are exactly what has caused problems with previous people in your position.
posted by rhizome at 12:46 PM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

That break felt good! :D

The workers aren't working well, are leaving in droves, and play hookey from work.

Your solution seems to be to press them harder and tell them that if they don't succumb you'll give them the ax. And if they do what you want, then you'll be a great guy. Trust me, they don't trust you to be truthful on your word anymore than the trust you'll show them (which is zero if you're already willing to threaten them into working).

And, for some reason, threatening people who are willing to quit their jobs and not come to work with a good old fashioned firing is, well, ineffective. It's like telling someone on death row that if they don't clean up their cell you'll execute them.

You don't need a relaxed style, you need to laissez-faire this for a little bit and just observe what's going on and fix the real issues (which will present themselves to you, I doubt you'll need to dig them up). You've heard the management side of this, but with only half the equation, your solution will be half-assed.
posted by shepd at 1:09 PM on August 24, 2007

I completely agree with shepd. It almost sounds like you're already thinking of your underlings as children in need of a good spanking and bed without dinner ("I dont want them thinking that they have got an easy run, because they haven't" sounds like something my father would say when we kids were acting up). These people are your co-workers, if you cannot respect them enough to try and find out what the underlying problems are from the people actually on the front lines of the "issues", then you may as well just move yourself along and become the next ex-senior finance manager for this company. I've been both management and staff, and in neither position do you improve anything by presuming guilt, acting like a dictator or treating other people with disrespect. Respect begets respect and toxic workplace environments are insidious. Assume that these people are decent sorts who actually want to do their jobs well and aren't able to for some reason (likely beyond their control), rather than recalcitrant children who've been taking advantage of past permissive parenting.

My suggestion is that you make a point of keeping an open mind and actually finding out what the problems in your department are before you go throwing your weight around and making threats about sackings to a clearly fragile workforce (in terms of loyalty, job satisfaction and security). It's rarely the case that people want to do a bad job, but it's often the case that poor management teaches them to, through lack of reward, lack of allowing them to actually take ownership of their work, assumed knowledge, unreasonable treatment, micromanagement, or other things. And the seagull style of management is rarely effective.

I would spend the first day meeting people and feeling out the vibe of the place. Later in the week, sit your staff down both in a group and individually, talk to them respectfully and with an open mind, and listen to them, ask them what they see as the problems in this department (management, especially upper management, often only sees and treats symptoms, not the underlying illness), encourage them to come up with suggestions for ways to fix the issues, acknowledge that there are obviously some serious issues and make it clear that you want to work with them to try and solve those issues. Good luck.
posted by biscotti at 1:50 PM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: haha, brush up on communication is on my list as you have generally misinterpreted what i meant.

take it that i have some extremely good experience in turning round poor working conditions, that is why i am being hired.

take "great boss" - for all the things you define: open minded, honest, open, trusting, output focussed, respectful, supportive, etc..

and i'm sorry to disappoint you all, but some employees do not like change - even when for the positive future of the company and need to be moved onto an organisation which can value their inputs.

what i am actually asking for are more practical suggestions, along the lines of biscotti's last paragraph (thanks for those) - not a discourse on management styles.

posted by trashcan at 2:49 PM on August 24, 2007

Your most recent post comes across as very condescending. Do not treat your employees that way. They won't respond well to it.
posted by decathecting at 3:23 PM on August 24, 2007

I assume you'll be bringing your guitar to work to sing them your self-penned songs? Builds morale. Yeah.
posted by Bud Dickman at 3:25 PM on August 24, 2007

haha, brush up on communication is on my list as you have generally misinterpreted what i meant.

If the advice you're getting isn't what you want to hear, I'm sorry, but I was answering you based not only on what you overtly asked, but also on the way you're presenting yourself. Admittedly, internet conversation leaves a lot to the imagination, but the language you're using and the manner in which you're talking about both yourself and your future staff implies something other than your being "open minded, honest, open, trusting...respectful, supportive, etc..". You're talking about sacking people you've barely met, you come across as having already decided what the problems are and you haven't even started the job, you seem more focused on punishment as a solution than anything else, you're talking about your future (presumably adult) staff as if they're schoolchildren, and you seem to be being sarcastic to people who you've asked for help. Suggesting that you adjust your own attitude before you poison the waters of your new job seems a pretty practical suggestion to me.
posted by biscotti at 4:23 PM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

You have a tough road ahead of you, trashcan, from the sounds of things. Upper management have presumably communicated their vision of how they want things done, and you are in agreement with that. The issue is that the line staff do not appear to be in agreement. I'm not a manager, I'm an ethnographer, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt.

Do some "fieldwork" with your employees. You've got management's view, now get the line staff's view. You will likely find that the line staff have concerns that are not being communicated or heard upstairs, and have become demoralized as a result. Your job, as manager, is to act as the mediator between the two; on the one hand, you're there to get results for your management table. On the other, you're there to provide your employees with the tools and resources they need to get the job done. Your responsibility is to find a way for the two ends of the spectrum to meet in the middle.

I'm seconding biscotti here. Talk to your employees, and get their side of the story. Then when you've had time to digest both sides, come up with a win-win strategy, communicate it to both sides! Make it clear to everyone involved what their role in "fixing the problem" needs to be to get the results. Believe me, it is the only way you will get the all-important buy-in from your employees, and still keep your management table happy. And when your employees see that they have gained a champion who is willing to take their concerns seriously, well, you won't need to threaten anybody with sacking.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 4:42 PM on August 24, 2007

I've worked for places with low moral and bad bosses such that many people longed to be canned. And this is in the US, which does not typically have anywhere near the generous severance and unemployment benefits that fall within "within UK employment regulations."

What biscotti has repeatedly said about listening as well as acknowledgment of problems is invaluable. As someone well familiar with this kind of miserable office culture as both a worker and manager, what's truly impressive is a leader who is absolutely upfront instead of using the typical optimistic empty gloss that bad managers use to avoid talking about big problems. After you've had at least a few days to observe what's actually happening, have a meeting with your team and say, "I've been trying to understand our current situation and here's what seems to be going on (as you said): high levels of sick days and staff turnover, and no work done for a few months on some key issues. Why do you think this is happening? What can we all agree are the priorities that must be dealt with to improve this?". Keep meetings short and focused and as free of jargon (especially of the trendy business type) as possible.

Then listen. Write down those priorities and ways to address them in a document everyone can share and edit, and solicit lots of feedback as you start applying their suggestions to meet modest goals: to reduce absenteeism by 10%, to increase productivity by 15%, what have you. Then reward your team for meeting these goals with things people truly want: a half-day holiday, an email-free Friday where they can focus solely on catching up with current work, that sort of thing. Work harder than anyone else and dive in to help wherever you can, no matter how lowly the task. There's no shortcut to earning trust and respect, especially in a situation that's been dysfunctional for some time. (It goes without saying that you need to communicate your plans and goals clearly with your own superiors. It's your job to intelligibly translate what's going on with your employees to them and to negotiate compromises between both groups.) As success occurs, adjust the goals upward until you are back on track, being sure to reward your team for each goal met.

I guarantee if you go in there on Monday with even a hint about you of blustery hardass you will be immediately pegged as simply the latest in a bad series of managers and duly despised and ignored. Start out respectful and genuine and human. If problems arise with individual employees, deal with them one on one. Don't assume everyone is already out to sabotage you, so that when and if you deal with cases that actually demand a tough response you can make one while banking on the loyalty and respect you've already earned through your actions. Best of luck.
posted by melissa may at 5:04 PM on August 24, 2007

Best answer: I've found this book helpful in starting new jobs, particularly when managing others.

You have a small staff - getting to know them as individuals is a good approach. Schedule 1:1 time and learn from your team. They know more than you do.
posted by 26.2 at 5:27 PM on August 24, 2007

If I had hired you for this position, I wouldn't exactly be taking comfort in the fact that you are asking for advice on how to do the job from a bunch of anonymous people the web. Your post is kind of like a brain surgeon coming to Metafilter and saying, "I've been hired for my great track record in brain surgery, and have been entrusted with an extremely difficult case --- any advice on getting started with the operation?"

But since you have asked, I will offer a constructive suggestion: tread softly at first, observe the culture, and don't impose yourself until you understand how things work there. You'll just make an ass of yourself, and enemies of your employees, if you start asserting your authority without understanding the culture. (I believe nothing we can say here will help you in any specific way, since we don't know the culture of the workplace.)
posted by jayder at 8:12 PM on August 24, 2007

Best answer: The best manager I've ever worked for, someone who was able to single-handedly lift team morale and get previously unheard of results from everyone around him, showed the following characteristics:

- He was a natural leader and inspired confidence by always keeping his word. He'd never make a promise he couldn't keep.

- He took time to get to know each of his team members individually, and this was not an act, we were important to our manager and we knew it by the way he'd take the time to sit at our desk and chat with us, make sure everything was going ok, ask how our weekend went, etc. And he did this as a friend, not as a manager, I never felt like I was being evaluated for my responses.

- He genuinally valued each of us and made this very clear. He made us feel appreciated and this is one of the key human cravings - to feel valued and appreciated. He did this with ease because he really meant it.

- He made extra efforts to make things in our team fun and interesting, for example once a week he would take us all (about 10 of us) out for coffee for some time to chill out and chat together. This took maybe an hour of work time, and probably cost him about $40 a week, which was well and truly offset by the increased productivity from a team with renewed enthusiasm and better morale. Sometimes he'd bring in cakes and biscuits and we'd all stop for 10 minutes to take a break and then get back to work. In short he organised fun and cheap activities that let everyone have a bit of fun and work better as a team, and he made this a regular part of our week.

- MOST IMPORTANTLY he was himself with us, he was genuine, human, caring (ironically enough not anything like most managers these days) and yet our team never did such good work or managed to meet such tight deadlines than when we were under his leadership.

On the same note the worst managers I've worked for (and there have been many!) have been arrogant and demanding, treating their staff like automatons, not keeping their word, trying to set themselves above everyone, etc, and while they may have met most of their deadlines they had high turnover and merely created a bad name for themselves in their industry.

I strongly recommend reading the book "How to win friends and influence people" by Norman Vincent Peale if you haven't already as this is a great primer on human nature and how to get the best from people. Every single great leader I've ever met, without exception, demonstrates the traits taught in this book.

I hope that helps. All the best :)
posted by katala at 8:12 PM on August 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: thanks 26.2 and katala for your input.
posted by trashcan at 12:29 AM on August 25, 2007

Ask questions. You need to persuade the employees that they are in control of the situation. Do not fall into the all too common trap of playing chicken with the employees where the harder you push the more they resist and this goes on until somebody 'blinks.' This is an enormous waste of money and unless you really are Bedstuy-tough then you will lose. So, right away, you need to cede control to them. Make it clear that you need their help. Ask them how to best accomplish your various goals. Ask them what they think even about high-level management decisions. Ask them what they don't like about their job. Even if you don't give them everything they want, make it plenty care that you want to know their opinion and you value their input. Also give them plenty of room to step up and take the initiative. A lot of the time even potentially great employees are turned off by stupid management. But if you give them just a little room to do their thing then wake right up.

Give it three months. The employees that respond well to their newfound powers are the keepers. The ones that still slack around doing nothing, don't contribute anything of value, or still have a general negative attitude get tossed.

And remember, your goal is very different from the owners of the business. The owners just want to maximize cashflow. This is a short-term, simplistic view. Your goal is to create real wealth by building a happy, solid, hard-working team. You are not there to 'reform' employees or 'avert disaster' or save the day. Your only responsibility is to replace a bad team with a good team. Once you have a good team the rest will probably take care of itself. Explain to the owners that the numbers might not come up right away because your focus is to build the solid team and create a new corporate culture that will contribute to long-term value. If they don't sign off on this mission then then split; they want a slave driver not a real manager. If they do, go to town.
posted by nixerman at 7:23 AM on August 25, 2007

How to win friends & influence people is by Dale Carnegie, right?

Another good book is called Fish! . It's all about transforming an underperforming workplace into a fun and productive unit. In this book, the narrator spends the first few days learning about what is currently happening and why team morale is so low. Then she has several meetings with the teams with ways to improve and gets the team support. I definitely recommend the book, it is a very quick read (couple hours max).
posted by ets960 at 8:20 AM on August 27, 2007

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