Working With a New Boss

You’re in the marketing department and you have a new boss. Now, ponder these statistics:

  • From Deloitte University Press: “86% of companies say developing new leaders is an ‘urgent’ need.”
  • According to Inc.: “Three-out-of-four employees report their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job.”
  • The Ken Blanchard Companies report: “The average organization is 50% as productive as it should be, thanks to less-than-optimal leadership practices.”
  • According to The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine research shows that: “Employees who have managers they didn’t like were 60% more likely to suffer a heart attack.”

Your boss affects not only your job performance, but health performance as well.

Let’s discuss how to optimize your relationship with your new boss so you’re successful in your new role and enjoy your new responsibilities. Your boss defines success benchmarks, interprets your results for key players within the organization, and allocates the budget and resources you need. Determining how to have a productive working relationship with him or her while you establish yourself and negotiate for resources is your priority from day one.

Determining Metrics

It’s very important to understand how your boss will measure success. What are the metrics that must be met, and what is the schedule to meet them?

  • Have a meeting early on with your boss, preferably within the first week or two of starting. Develop a specific agenda. Ask your boss to define your initial work mandate. Request he/she define goals and success metrics. You may need resources, and if you do, then secure commitments for them up front. You want to set yourself up for success, so negotiate for resources — people, funding, and knowledge — to meet goals needs to happen at the same time as you commit to meeting your objectives.
  • Set mutual expectations early. For example, “I need a budget of X for a social media campaign. You’re giving me a budget of 50% of X; so, you can expect incremental results of Y based on the greatly reduced budget.” Managing your boss’ expectations early and getting his/her buy-in allows them to either fix the problem or manage expectations up the organization. Equally important is the need to shape perceptions of what can and should be achieved. If a certain assignment seems misguided or trivial, discuss the priority of all projects you’re managing.
  • Marketing campaigns can have unexpected results sometimes good and sometimes bad. When a marketing campaign goes south it’s important to share the bad news early with your boss. This gives them more options and garners support for managing bad news.
  • When developing a schedule; look for projects/campaigns that you know can produce quick wins. It’s also helpful to confirm these “low hanging fruit” projects are also a priority for your boss. If not, discuss why you want to pursue them, what the benefits are and get buy-in. Early wins are important especially when a boss has shared ownership of your success. It allows him/her to passionately share positive results with his/her boss.
  • Get to know your team and build supportive internal relations. Surprising, “70% of employees would like to spend more time with their manager.” Your boss may think highly of some team members who are now subordinates. These team members have pre-existing work relationships and need to be connected with, as they’re going to continue to communicate with your boss. It’s important to get praise from those whose opinions your boss respects. The bottom line is having a friendly and collegial work environment is important.

What’s Your Boss’s Communication Style?

Don’t allow misunderstandings to complicate your relationship; spend time up front discussing how you can work together effectively.

Understanding the best method to successfully work together is pretty simple. Ask questions about communication preferences at the start of your relationship. For example:

  • How much information would you like me to share about my project status?
  • How often should I update you?
  • What’s your preferred communication method?
  • How often would you like face-to-face meetings?

Conversations that Matter – Understanding Business Dynamics

It is critically important you understand the business dynamics of the organization you just joined. To do this it’s worth planning for conversations that will help you connect the dots.

Key early conversations to have:

Week 1: Business situational awareness. How does your new boss see the business situation? Is the company sustaining success, a startup, a turnaround, or in a realignment situation? How did the organization get to this point? What are the organizational goals for your team? How can you help them achieve their goals? What are the factors that make these goals reasonable or a challenge? What resources within the organization can you draw upon?

Week 2: Style counts and understanding your boss’s style will make working together more impactful. The key question is what is the best way the two of you can interact on an ongoing basis. What your boss’ communication preferences? Text? Email? Face-to-face? A phone call? By voice mail? How often does he/she like updates? What constitutes an emergency? What kinds of decisions does he want to be involved in? What decisions do you have authority to make the call independently?

Week 3: Defining your success story. What are the few key things that your new boss needs you to accomplish in the short term and medium term so he/she can meet goals with management? What does the organization consider a success and what does your boss consider a success? When do these things need to be accomplished? How are key performance indicators measured? Make goals realistic and matched to resources available.

If your boss’ expectations are unrealistic, express your concerns early on, provide alternative solutions, and adjust the metrics.

Later conversations to have:

Week 4: What additional resources are critical for your success? Once you have them identified it’s time to have that conversation. Begin with a written list and rationale of what need and how your boss can help. Based on your boss’ communication style discuss this with him/her. The resources needed are not always funding or personnel, but also access to systems or internal or external data, introductions to key employees or guidance/advice. For example, if your new company has structural issues with the marketing organization you’re trying to change, your boss can play a critical role in helping you connect with the right people to help address correct the issues and advocate for solutions.

Week 12 to 16: Eventually, you’re going to want to understand and discuss how your time in this job will contribute to your personal development. You have goals and you’d like your boss to support and help you achieve them. Discuss what projects or special assignments can be assigned to you without sacrificing focus? Also consider, educational options to develop and strengthen your skills. Get his/her feedback on courses or programs that would strengthen your capabilities.

Relationships are built over time. Building a great relationship with your new boss should start the first day on the job. There’s a sequential logic to developing a great relationship. It doesn’t have to be hard or awkward, just applied consistently. Focusing on business situational awareness, communications style, and expectations will build trust.

As you learn more about your role and duties, start communicating about resources needed for your success. When necessary revisit and seek clarification on style, expectations, and business dynamics. Consider discussions on personal development moving forward once your relationship is reasonably well established.