5 tips on dealing with a change of boss

In any work environment, change is inevitable, and invariably will happen when you least expect it.  One of the most challenging changes can be the departure of an old boss ad the arrival of a new boss.  Whether it’s due to organisational change, business restructuring, a departure of a familiar face or changes higher up the reporting chain, don’t be surprised if it leaves you feeling destabilised or unsure.  Some businesses manage change well, with open and clear communication, others are less effective.  Here’s 5 tips on how to cope with a change and avoid unnecessary stress as a result of the change.

1. Don’t panic! – Change IS scary, as human beings, we like consistency, to be in control and to have clarity on our role and purpose.  A new boss, and in particular, a change of reporting structure throws us off our stride.  Even a well-managed change with plenty of notice may give us sleepless nights. Accept the emotional journey, especially when you’ve worked well with your previous boss.  Don’t underestimate the impact on yourself – you may go through the 5 stages of grieving (Kübler-Ross Model).  Allow yourself through the transition so you can move forward quickly and find your feet again.

2. Be pragmatic – Following the announcement of a change that impacts you, many questions will race through your mind.  Some will be sensible, important questions, others an emotional reaction.  Setting up a time to talk through your questions with the new boss is important, but allow enough time to avoid an overly emotional reaction, which will invariably not show you off in your best light.  I tend to make a list, and revise it multiple times before emailing my new boss. You can’t avoid the change, so better to put your best foot forward as you start the relationship with your new boss.

3. Ask questions – You’ll need answers to many questions as a result of the change. Whilst balancing the emotional reaction from the two previous points, it would be a mistake to avoid asking uncomfortable questions.  Try to change the emotional questions (“How will this affect me?”), in favour of more objective questions (“Will this result in changes to my objectives and deliverables?”)  You must make sure that within a relatively short period of time, all doubts, uncertainties and knowledge gaps are filled.  You may not like the reason for the change (“Our revenue is down, so we’re increasing targets”), but knowledge empowers you to implement any changes your new boss requires.  So be bold, and ask the questions!

4. Re-align goals and objectives quickly – It’s very rare for a change in line manager to have no impact at all on your goals and objectives.  The numbers may be the same, but HOW you need to achieve them may change (We are still aiming for 15% growth this year, but I’d like you to focus on developing our online channel more”).  A discussion on re-aligning goals and objectives is a great opportunity to showcase your achievements to date and start bonding with your new boss. Getting aligned quickly means minimal wasted effort.

5. Impact on your team – The impact of the change for you will be amplified for your team.  Any well-structured and connected team will pick up on the emotions of the change.  Open and honest communication is critical, balancing an emotional reaction with your responsibility to guide your team through change.  Your team will watch your response, so it would be a mistake to exclude your new boss from the change. Instead, bringing your new boss into the team, showcasing the skills and bonds will reassure all concerned.  Make time for your team members to talk to you 1 on 1 to help them through the change.

In brief, once you’re over the shock and get back into your stride, you’ll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.  When the change happens, focus on the outcomes you want to achieve – successful delivery, ask the questions to re-attain clarity, over-communicate with your team, building a relationship with your new boss.  Whilst you can’t predict when or how often a change of boss will happen, you can be prepared for it!


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