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The Mythical Powers of the New Manager July 30, 2011

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership.
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Over the years I’ve had a lot of experience in the role of the new manager who inherits an existing team as an outsider. The first few weeks are typically chaotic, learning everyone’s name and the strange new acronyms. It’s also a time for learning the capabilities of the team, their current assignments, recent accomplishments, and contribution to the business’s objectives. The manager is expected to at least maintain, if not improve, the overall performance of the team, and that requires an understanding of what their subordinates can do.

Inevitably the new manager will find that some members of their team aren’t as capable and won’t be able to consistently deliver the expected level of performance, regardless of how much coaching and hands-on attention they receive. It may be possible to reassign responsibilities to make better use of each person’s strengths, but this may not be enough. Most new managers are not granted the instant authority to make sweeping changes and replace weak performers and upgrade with new hires or transfers, and even if they did have those powers it takes time to identify, hire, and train new people. The turnaround can’t happen overnight.

It’s important to set realistic expectations with superiors and peers when taking responsibility for an existing team. The new manager is often seen as a kind of savior who will fix everything that’s wrong with the team. The other managers probably already know who the weak players are, who isn’t performing, and they’re often eager to share their insights with the new manager. Now there’s someone who can take responsibility and turn things around. Maybe they’ve been blaming the previous manager for the team’s failures, including perhaps that manager’s failure to deal effectively with the poor performers. If things don’t immediately improve, disillusionment can set in as the other leaders and team members come to realize that the new manager is no better than the previous one.

If a subordinate is truly failing to perform, then the new manager must surely take action, whether coaching, reassignment, or termination. The manager must demonstrate a commitment to improvement where necessary, but that improvement takes time and cannot happen instantaneously. It takes time to objectively assess the team, identify the changes that must be made, and implement those changes while supporting the rest of the team that is meeting expectations. The new manager must move deliberately, and it helps to make some immediate changes that removes some of the pressure, but they also need to manage expectations and help their fellow leaders understand that they’re not superhuman.

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