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Dear Career Counselor:

I will be starting a new job soon as a manager at another institution, and I am feeling a little out of place. The majority of the staff have been at the institution for 25 years or more, and I will be the outsider and the new kid on the block. I want to benefit from all the people around me — my peers, my direct reports, and even my boss — but I am unsure how to go about making this happen. Do you have any good strategies for engaging these people and getting myself off to a good start?
— New Kid on the Block

Dear New Kid:

Congratulations on the new job! And now for the reality... Your first 100 days on the job set the stage for future success, so you definitely want to start off on the right foot.

First, remember that your new boss has confidence in you, or you would not have been chosen for the leadership position you now have. As the newcomer to the group, you will face some skepticism — the others have been in the workplace longer, they may have been in the field longer, and they may have more experience than you.

As a new manager, you need to arrive prepared, and that means armed with an understanding of both the IT organization and of the perceptions held by senior administrators about what needs to change. The first thing you need to do is get to know the people on your team and their names — preferably before you start your new job. It will be pretty embarrassing if someone walks by and greets you by name, and you are left wondering what their name is. It will also come in really handy if you need to get their attention, much better than tapping their shoulder or standing around until they notice you.

Getting to know your employees as well as allowing them to get to know you is important for your integration into the group, especially as the newcomer from another institution. You will need their full support to get anything done, so you need to spend time with them to build the relationships that will develop mutual trust and respect. Only in this way can you build real respect and thus productivity. Schedule one-on-one time with each of your staff members, and use that time to listen and ask questions — and take notes. If you have managers reporting to you who have their own direct reports, let the managers know that you’ll want to meet with their direct reports too, and try to discourage the managers from being present at those meetings. If all you’re doing is listening and learning, there’s no threat, and some face time with the new Big Boss is often well received.

Learning the culture of your organization is another important step in the process, especially if you have major changes you want to make. Good managers and leaders know how to flex their styles in response to the personalities of others and to prevailing departmental or institutional culture. This does not mean completely changing your personality or compromising your standards, but subtly flexing where needed in response to the environment.

As you settle into your new job, remember that any new management job can be stressful. If you feel stressed out, find some stress management techniques that work for you. One tip that seems to work for most people is to find a mentor, coach, or trusted friend to use as a sounding board. EDUCAUSE has a useful Mentoring Information Kit that can help you engage a mentor successfully. Other ways to reduce stress include exercise, yoga, or just taking time for yourself, away from work. Check out the earlier Career Counselor column in EQ (volume 33, number 1, 2010).

Here are a few other tips that might help as you start your new job:

  • Acknowledge the expertise and experience of the staff. You will probably win them over if you give them the credit they deserve.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. It takes awhile to understand a new organization, and things that initially seem bizarre to you may turn out to make some sense in this particular context. When you do think it’s time for a change, ask for input, and introduce changes only after you have built some rapport and trust. If you push your own ideas too quickly, the staff might become defensive.
  • That said, don’t be afraid to assert yourself when it comes to setting a direction, guiding, or offering opinions on your staff’s work. Do not let them intimidate you, and do not accept less than good quality work. Perhaps the best thing you can offer is clarity — people like to understand the goals they’re working toward, and why.
  • Give your staff enough room to complete the job in their own way. Don’t micromanage unless they are not performing well.
  • Share the credit and praise you receive with the staff supporting you.
  • Keep everyone challenged, and keep morale high. The best way to keep your staff motivated is with challenging work that suits their strengths.
  • Know your own management style and share this with your staff. If they don’t know your preferences or style, it’s hard for them to meet your expectations.
  • Insist on respectful treatment as the leader.

You might find the following resources helpful as well:

Finally, SMILE. You are starting a new, exciting chapter in your life — one full of opportunities and wonders. Express your happiness, and let your new coworkers know you are happy to be there and happy to be working with them.

— The Career Counselor

Do you have a question for the Career Counselor? Please send your questions to careercounselor@educause.edu. (Your identity will be kept strictly confidential.)

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