Would you buy a house built on shifting sand?
No, of course not. A structure needs stability – it’s a place you’re going to be for years.
Yet for many people at work, their job feels like it’s sitting on shifting sand when managers are rotated in and out. It’s common for companies to shift managers around, and they might have their reasons for doing this, but it comes at a cost, creating unstable ground for the people who have committed to work there long-term.
So how can you be your best when the person you report to keeps changing?
It must begin with a mindset change. If your company is going to keep changing managers on you, then you need to dispense with the idea of “growing old together,” and instead, look for inspiration from professions where rotating managers is the norm, growth-focused, and exciting.
For me, one example is the movie business. Actors work with rotating managers. Those managers are called directors, and often there will be a different one for every movie role. So, what do they do? They get to know who they’re working with, and they shape their strategy around the director. This is a mindset adjustment. No actor ever says, “This is the only director I ever want to work with.” They might have favorites, of course, but their mind is always on the next project. And when your mind is in that space, you become prepared for it.
Having to cycle through new managers is never easy. Here are three tips for maintaining your best performance when facing a succession of managers.
1. Develop a Strategy
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you don’t need to invest in the relationship with your new manager even if it might be short-term. Having a good relationship with your manager makes your job more enjoyable.
If you are given advance notice of who the next manager is going to be, find out all you can about this person. Where are they coming from – which department or company? What did they do there? What is the reason they were hired and what does that mean for your career? What kind of personality do they have? Do you know anyone who has worked with this person that you can seek out? Much of this research can be found on social media, of course, LinkedIn especially – not just their profile but also their activity – posts, comments, and attitude.
This knowledge will help you understand more about the person you will be working with. There will be a lot more to learn as time goes on, but the best antidote to fear is always knowledge. The more you know about the person you will be working with, the less apprehension you will feel.
2. Learn to Manage Up
Managing up is not about critiquing a manager, but instead it’s about establishing a symbiotic relationship, in which you become a proactive and trusted partner. In the movies, a director relies on actors who not only understand the job of acting, but who also understand the challenges of being a director, and who can work with them, rather than just following direction. They need people they can trust and rely on. To set the stage for a meaningful relationship with your new manager, clarify their expectations and priorities. Here’s a dialogue to use: “Our relationship is important to me, and I want to exceed your expectations. So… If it’s a year from now and we’re looking back, what would have had to happen for you to believe that I was essential to the business and contributed to your success?”
3. Expect Change but Invest in the Relationship
Your new manager will likely make changes specifically to make their mark on the department. Others might seek to keep things much the same, but their style, being different from their predecessor, will mean things will change regardless. Some managers are more relatable than others, and some might end up being younger or less experienced than you. All of these can become uncertainties that can cause anxiety unless you address them first.
Approach your concerns by writing them out. When you’re dealing with worries, you must get them outside of your head, so you can look at them in in a rational way. Whether you type them or write them out, this activity places all your worries in front of you. This action gives your mind the cue to start developing solutions. It’s like a decluttering exercise: get your thoughts and worries on paper, and let your mind use that new mental space to start producing ideas.
Just because this next new manager is your next boss, it doesn’t mean they hold all the cards. Just like in the movies, there will be great directors and less-than-great directors, but the successful actor is the one who learns what they need to know to manage the relationship from their own side and use the experience to grow and evolve into a new and improved star. Knowing that this is the new status quo makes it much easier to handle and will keep your mindset positive and your career intact.
Plus…who knows? Maybe one day you may be replacing your manager — Or at least, be nominated for an Oscar!