“The paranoid person is never entirely mistaken.”
– Sigmund Freud
ACTUAL CASE HISTORIES: Quite frankly, there are so many actual case histories of “New Manager Risk” that I could write an entire book on the subject. A large part of my law practice over these past 35 years has been devoted to severance, and I have identified five or six situations where we can almost expect our client to lose his or her job. Putting aside for the moment the “large-scale downsizing” category, the “New Manager” category is one of the most common “one-off,” or individual, job loss situations.
I often describe “New Manager Risk” this way: (1) new captain takes over the ship, (2) new captain is eager to show how much improvement she can bring about, (3) he thinks his best path to improvement is the hiring of a “new crew,” (4) she thinks that people she has known from other teams she has worked with will be very loyal, as well, and (5) one by one, the “old crew” are convinced, coaxed or coerced to “walk the plank.”
Sound familiar? I’d be surprised if it didn’t.
While I am confident everyone has seen or experienced this very scenario, I am absolutely certain that everyone will, sooner or later, come across it, themselves. Hopefully, when it happens, it will not happen to you.
LESSON TO LEARN: The lesson to learn here is quite simple: if you are assigned to a new manager, or a new manager is assigned to you, you need to be at least a touch extra vigilant, and consider taking extra steps to do all you can to keep your job. So, the first step is enhanced vigilance, the subject of this newsletter.
***Note that in coming weeks, we will write another newsletter about steps you can take to counteract “New Manager Risk” in order to keep your job. It will be entitled “New Manager? – Addressing the New Risks.” In the meantime, consider what events and circumstances you should look out for, as explained below.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Here are eight things you can be on the lookout for if either you are assigned to a new manager, or a new manager is assigned to you:
1. Take note of expressions of disinterest. When Charles was a young physician working for a large, private medical practice, due to a reorganization of departments, a new department head was assigned a new team of which Charles was a member. A luncheon was arranged for the new department head to meet each of those who would be reporting to him. After dessert, at what seemed an opportune time, Charles approached the new department head and stuck out his hand to shake his, and said, “Hello, I’m Charles Smith.” The new department head’s response? “Yes, I know,” and then he simply walked away without shaking Charles’ hand.
Charles put the experience into what he called a “mental box” with the title “What the heck was that all about??” and he gave it no further thought. Four months later, when terminated without notice, cause or apparent reason, Charles identified that precise moment as his “first inkling” of a possible problem with his new manager.
2. Keep one eye alert for “dis-invitations.” Simply, are you not being invited to meetings that you formerly attended, or even supervised? The same goes for social functions, including a wide variety of corporate events. This can be a sign of two things: (i) either your new manager did not know you formerly attended these meetings, or (ii) she knows that you did, but she has no interest in your doing so in the future.
Of all the signs of “New Manager Risk,” this is perhaps both (a) among the earliest signs, and (b) probably the most common sign reported to me, and the one that requires the most detailed thought as to origin and intent.
3. Keep your other eye wide open for acts or omissions that might serve to sabotage your achievements. Almost any manager can do things – or fail to do things – that might make it difficult or impossible for you to do your work. Examples might include to “forget” to sign off on your budget request, fail to approve a necessary hiring, approve reimbursement of your business-related expense sheets, or even ignore repeated emails regarding an approaching deadline. A new manager who wants to bring in his “friends” from his former job can and often will do those things in a rather passive-aggressive way.
This has been one of the most frustrating experiences to deal with for my clients, especially since this is the same manager who will later evaluate your performance, decide what may be your next discretionary bonus, or otherwise be able to threaten to do harm to your important financial, career and reputational interests.
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4. A step beyond “dis-invitations” is “end-running” you to your subordinates. A related dynamic to being “dis-invited” to meetings you used to attend is to have your manager engage in repeated direct communications with those who report to you. The less extreme variety is direct communications with your subordinates without your knowledge; the more extreme variety is direct communications with your subordinates without your knowledge.
The degree of risk also depends on the nature of direct communications with your subordinates. The lesser degree of risk consists of communications of a less substantive type, say, asking questions about results of efforts; the greater degree of risk consists of communications with your subordinates in which they are assigned task, or even worse, told not to do things you have assigned to them.
5. One possible result of “New Manager Risk” is “de-territorialization.” Here is truly where the rubber hits the road. After Antonio’s Manager, Helen, retired, she was replaced by Laura. Just a few months later, Laura decided, without consultation with Antonio, that, while he previously oversaw both the New York and Hong Kong offices, a new hire would assume from Antonio oversight of the Hong Kong office.
Diminished territory (in the broadest sense of the word), responsibilities, staff, budget and the like are not just a kind of “New Manager Risk,” but represents actual demotion, even if title is not affected. It is almost certainly a step toward the exit door, and is to be taken with utmost seriousness.
“De-territorialization” often takes on a passive twist in which others are seemingly permitted by your manager to take actions inconsistent with your own achievement of goals. Examples include: (a) use of the services of your direct reports, making them unavailable to you, (b) reserving your conference room or conference call system for their own business needs, or even (c) directing members of your team, perhaps even your Administrative Assistant, to provide them with data on your work and achievements, with the apparent, tacit approval of your manager, or at least his acquiescence.
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6. A second, ominous result of New Manager Risk may be lowered Performance Evaluation. New Managers often send “messages” by means of lowered performance evaluations, even at times just weeks after they have arrived. Some new managers claim they have higher standards than their predecessors did. Some claim that they “grade on the bell curve,” while others claim that they did, in fact, receive input from the previous manager. And, too, some new managers claim that lower performance evaluations are needed to motivate their new team to higher achievements.
While each of these reasons may make some sense, in my view the most rational view is that lowered performance evaluations by new managers are often a means of laying down a paper trail to make way for an eventual “thinning of the ranks” to come.
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7. The imposition of a Development Plan or Performance Improvement Plan is nothing less than ominous. Being put on a Development Plan or Performance Improvement Plan (often called a “PIP”) is like having your desk “temporarily” moved into the employee parking lot. I encourage every client to take to heart honest constructive criticism, and to commit themselves to proposed paths to self-improvement. But I truly believe that such “development plans” and “PIPs” are rarely more than a “paper trail” upon which to predicate later employee termination. In fact, most such “plans” state at their conclusion: “If improvement has not been observed in the above-mentioned areas, further corrective action may occur, up to and including termination.”
This is an increasingly common method to change personnel with little risk or cost to the employer, and often at great harm to the employee. Many people do their best to comply with the vague, subjective and improbable goals often set by PIPs and Development Plans; try as them may, very few succeed.
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8. Alarm bells should ring loudly if rumors, discussion or announcements are made about “restructuring.” It is quite common to see departmental restructurings, reorganizations or re-alignments take place 6 to 12 months after the arrival of a new manager. The restructuring of a department, division or working group by a new manager will likely be the final step in that new manager’s deciding who will stay, and who will go, the crest of a wave of risk that will either keep you on dry ground, or wash you out to sea.
If, following the arrival of a new manager, you survive a restructuring of your department of division, you should congratulate yourself, and breath a significant sigh of relief. But vigilance, to at least a reasonable degree, should never end.
In Summary . . .
At work as in life, things change all the time. Nothing stays the same. One common event at work is the entrance into your work life of a new manager, for any number of reasons. This is a stage of heightened job risk for which you need to devote a heightened level of vigilance. Read the tea leaves, look for the telltale signs, and keep your eyes wide open for signs of risk to your job. Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel Corporation wrote a book about “survival” at work in corporate America. Its title? “Only the Paranoid Survive.”
P.S.: For those seeking personal attention, I offer 30-minute, 60-minute, or 120-minute telephone consultations. To obtain your consultation, just [click here.] If needed, evenings and weekends can usually be accommodated.
SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation and navigation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and build value and avoid risks at every point in your career. We strive to help you understand what is commonly before you – traps and pitfalls, included – and to avoid the likely bumps in the road. One of those risks is what we call “New Manager Risk,” for which we offer these “Eight Signs to Watch Out For” as part of wise job and career “navigation and negotiation.
Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about.
*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.
Please Note: This Email Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel, and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale.
Sklover Working Wisdom™ is a trademarked newsletter publication of Alan L. Sklover, of Sklover & Company, LLC, a law firm dedicated to the counsel and representation of employees in matters of their employment, compensation and severance. Nothing expressed in this material constitutes legal advice. Please note that Mr. Sklover is admitted to practice in the state of New York, only. When assisting clients in other jurisdictions, he retains the assistance of local counsel and/or obtains permission of local Courts to appear. Copying, use and/or reproduction of this material in any form or media without prior written permission is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved. For further information, contact Sklover & Company, LLC, 45 Rockefeller Plaza, Suite 2000, New York, New York 10111 (212) 757-5000.
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