News & Insight
March 2005

Your Career Path to Success Forging a Successful Relationship with Your New Boss

Bill Morin<br />Chairman & CEO<br />WJM Associates

Research shows that people join companies because of the company, but leave because of the manager.

Sadly enough, this happens because the relationship with the manager was not well formed in the beginning. Goals were unclear, work styles conflicted, or incorrect assumptions were made about priorities, skills and authority.

The first few days of a new job can be simultaneously exciting, anxious and stressful. First there’s the task of adjusting to life in a new town, state or country, if relocation is part of the picture. Next there’s the issue of assuming your new responsibilities, which may be broader than before, in a different industry or both. Finally there’s the matter of getting to know a whole new cast of stakeholders, colleagues and subordinates -- and learning to work with a new boss.

Moving into a new job without creating an effective relationship with your new boss is like trying to build a house on a foundation of sand -- you just can’t do it. That’s why, when we provide on-board coaching to newly hired executives, our first priority is to help our clients quickly establish a solid relationship with their new boss. In fact, we advise our clients to schedule a meeting with their new manager early on -- in week one, if possible -- to:

  • Determine their boss’s communication preferences, work style, and management likes and dislikes.
  • Achieve clarity around their two or three most important objectives.
  • Learn about their scope of authority, accountabilities and resources.

We encourage our clients to prepare as formally for this meeting as they would a presentation to the board of directors; it’s that important to their success. We tell them to take notes, write a summary, and meet with their boss a second time to review what they heard and gain the boss’s buy-in. After that, there should be no surprises.

If you’d like to follow this approach yourself, here are some points to consider:

Ask how your boss likes to communicate. Some people like e-mail, others prefer voice mail, and still others like the old-fashioned tête-à-tête. Do meetings need to be scheduled, or are “drop-ins” okay? Does your boss like to receive calls on her mobile phone? What about evenings and weekends? Does she like to receive frequent updates on progress, or only if something’s going wrong? Learn definitions of key words (how soon is “urgent”?)

Identify your main priorities. What are the two or three things that you must achieve in order to be successful? Learn about each objective: the timeline expectations, a clear picture of the expected outcome, how success will be measured, and the resources you’ll have available. Also find out what has been tried before. What organizational barriers exist that might be roadblocks? Who are the key supporters of this initiative? What stake do they have in it?

Know Your Scope and Accountabilities. Incongruence often exists between new leaders and their boss regarding scope of authority. Policies or guidelines as simple as signature authority levels, if not discussed, can wreak major havoc. Learn about your contracting and signature authorities. Inquire about your hiring and termination authority. Learn about the policy process. Are policies set in stone in this organization, or are they relaxed? Do you have authority to establish policies (e.g., the department’s dress code) or do you have to go through Human Resources?

Finally, ask for your boss’s opinion of the people who report to you, and get an organization chart. If one doesn’t exist, create one with your boss. Reporting relationships with new leaders can be very fuzzy. A boss who says “Joe will still report to me on the strategic planning project, but otherwise you’re responsible for him,” is not uncommon. But it is essential to understand the parameters of your authority.

Join our newsletter

Stay up to date on all things happening at WJM Associates