Breaking the ice

It can be a scary business, getting a new manager, especially if they are from outside the business
Barry Shannon

IT can be a scary business, getting a new manager. Especially if they are from outside the business and you know absolutely nothing about them, or worse; you hear rumours.

It's uncomfortable, like any setting where you don't know someone and have to meet them for the first time. The small talk, the testing of the boundaries.

Often this will be accompanied by the departure of your old boss. Maybe you really liked them, maybe you were glad to see the back of them; but at least you knew them. You understood their strengths, their weaknesses, their likes, hates, foibles and peculiarities. You probably knew the best way to deliver bad news or how to get on their good side, when to ask for leave or if you could come in late on the odd occasion. You knew what they truly valued in the workplace and how you could deliver that. You knew how far to push, when to stay quiet and when to challenge. You had a rhythm and a connection. Now that's gone.

So you sit there thinking: what will my new boss be like? Will they be very task orientated, will they be sticklers for time keeping. Will they have a sense of humour or do they take themselves very seriously? Will I be able to have a laugh with them and to what degree? Will they let me get on with my job or will they try to micro manage everything I do?

It's the same for a new boss. They probably don't know anyone either and have all the same fears and concerns as the staff awaiting them. They don't know what you are like, what you value, how you work, how you communicate etc.

Now most companies will have an induction process, maybe they call it assimilation, orientation, or some other fancy title. The new person will learn plenty about the organisation and the rules, policies and procedures, but typically very little about the people. Neither do the existing staff learn much about the incoming boss via this process. In the worst-case scenario, it's just an excuse for paperwork.

So, what's the answer? Well one thing you could think about is a Q&A. This can be anonymous, or with names against questions. There are plus and minus points for both approaches in that anonymity allows the more nervous to ask questions, yet also allows for the facetious ask. Named questions show what's important to the person yet may put others off if they don't like being in the spotlight.

Whatever way you set up however it can be an invaluable way of getting to know your new manager. What can you ask? Anything (within reason).

How do you prefer to communicate, face to face or via email? What are your pet hates at work? What should I ask permission for and what should I just go ahead and deal with? Do you have a sense of humour? Do you have a management philosophy? What motivates you? How do you like to be greeted? Do you mind people knocking the door during the day or do I need to put something in the diary? Can I phone you out of hours? What do you value most in your employees?

There are loads of questions you can ask and (if sensible) you can get a very holistic view of the new person coming in; in particular at the point when the information is being shared. If it's done in person or at a team meeting this can be a real opportunity to get greater insight. It also gives them a little chance to set some ground rules or to give you an insight into things that you otherwise might tip toe around for ages. So, let's tick boxes a little less and communicate a little more.

:: Barry Shannon ( is HR director at Cayan in Belfast

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