A question for ya: New boss gets the cold shoulder

I’ve written a lot about bad bosses and what you should do if you work for one – but sometimes it’s the other way around.

I recently got this email from a reader:

Dear Alexander,

I hope you don’t mind me off-loading on you, but I could really do with your advice.

I have just started a new job as the Director of a department that has undergone significant restructuring. I do not have a predecessor as my role is brand new. However, I have inherited a team of 4, all older than me, with clear loyalties to the person who did a similar role before and left in very unpleasant circumstances.

She had about 50% of my role, but only managed 2 of them. I am now responsible for the over-seeing of all 4 posts. The office that previously was independent is my biggest challenge. I am being given the complete cold shoulder. They don’t speak to me, make conversation, keep me informed and trying to get information from them is like trying to get blood from a stone.

There are 3 women and 1 man. I am a woman, and my problems are with the women!

What can I do? I feel miserable and scared I won’t be able to perform. I have the feeling I’m being set up for failure…

I would really appreciate your advice.

Interesting question and something I’m sure a lot of new managers face. What would you do?

8 thoughts on “A question for ya: New boss gets the cold shoulder”

  1. I’m a big fan of being straightforward, so I would tactfully address the issue head-on. First, though, I would do some research to make sure my suspicions are correct. I would start with the man who apparently is more open and see if he confirms your suspicions.

    If so, meet with each team member individually and let them know how you’re in this together. How you can’t do your job of enabling them to succeed and be promoted without being informed and engaged and how they can’t do their jobs as effectively without your help.

  2. I would try to get with each member of the team and ask them what they need from you. What would help them be more effective and make their job better?

    These people might hold bastions of corporate knowledge that you don’t want to immediately get rid of, and trying to tap that, while making them more comfortable might work to your advantage.

  3. I would sit down with each team member, begin with the man, and discuss the problem. Tell them that you are not responsible for what happened in the past and would like to have a good working relationship with all of them. If they continue the cold shoulder, sit with them again and tell them that the old boss will not return and you being forced out will mean another boss coming in. But the old boss will never return.

    If all of that does not help, perhaps you should talk to your boss about the situation.

  4. Sitting down with each of them to lay out expectations is a good start. The next step is to follow through.

    I often found it difficult to direct people, but with a little practice I got better at holding people accountable without getting upset. Set reasonable deadlines for receiving information and completing tasks. Make instructions and consequences clear. If they don’t follow through, then it becomes their responsibility not yours.

    Key to remember: don’t take it as a personal attack and get angry. People do what they do for a number of reasons, and it doesn’t usually involve personal vendettas.

  5. I agree with Steve’s recommendation. Talk to them, set clear expectations and if they aren’t on board with meeting them, fire those people. I used to believe in lots of chances and ‘rehabilitating’ people. Given a number of years in management I would say turnarounds are few and far between. You have an obligation to your employer and frankly yourself to make a quick assessment and decision and if necessary make a change.

  6. I agree with previous posts.

    Tell your people what the score is and let it be known that while you are willing to work with everyone and are very open to their input, those who are unable to meet the expectations you’ve outlined will have to be replaced. Keep the interaction as matter-of-fact as possible and clearly spell out your expectations moving forward. And then follow through. Sometimes it’s hard because we naturally want others to like us, but unfortunately, it sounds like these folks won’t like you no matter what and being a manager means not everyone will like you, even if you happened to be the greatest manager of all time.

  7. Talking to each of the members is nothing more than a quick fix and quick fixes simply doesn’t work. You can’t build trustworthy and healthy workplace with single talk.

    Firing the team is an option, but you will loose people with experience in what they do and will start over in building a team. Even if you are not working well with the existing team yet, at least they already work with each other. And will you get enough information from the new members, which will expect that you are the most experienced in this particular job?

    If you don’t know the previous director, you have to get to know his work, his good practices, his achievements. Then you can invite the team outside the office, let’s say for a dinner, and talk about the previous director. Show your respect to him and your will to make even better achievements.

    When boss is changed, people are naturally scared, because they don’t know how the new boss will see them. Do not forget that those people are the ones that know best how to perform their job. Get to know them and show them new opportunities. Give them a chance for personal or career development, give them a chance to perform their jobs in the best way they are seeing, involve them in decision making, and show them your full support. Your team have to feel save with you, and have to see new horizons waiting. Then they naturally will start supporting your own work with anything you need from them.

    This is a long process. Simply don’t try to make this at once, you can start building trust with each member individually, while you work on the entire process. As most already suggested, start with the man. Sometimes changing one’s attitude is enough to get the work done, and then you can just improving the entire environment, to get along with everyone of your people and to build highly effective team.

  8. I was on the reverse side of a similar situation. It might help you to know the track record of this company. Is this restructuring yet another in a series of chronic, demoralizing events that these employees have endured? Were people demoted or just let go before you arrived? Are other departments just as bad? If so the problem may be systemic.

    It sounds like you are new to this company. Were the existing more experienced employees told to train you and be happy about it? Are any of the problems of your own creation? For example, if you have discussed goals with your department, are they only personal i.e. where do you see yourself in five years; what do you want for yourself? It’s great to have personal goals, but why would these people want to help you meet your professional aspirations?

    Have you started “managing” – instituting policies/changes to demonstrate to your supervisor that you are doing something regardless if they are beneficial? Do you constantly hammer these people for status updates to the point that they can’t do their jobs?

    Have your experienced employees offered advice/recommendations and have you listened? Do you feel threatened by their knowledge and disregard their opinions feeling it will illustrate your inexperience if you accept their advice? If you do utilize their experience, do you acknowledge their contribution(s) to the project to your superiors (preferably in front of these employees) or do you either ignore it or (even worse) act as if the work was your own?

    Do you have their backs? People know when you are not on their side. I’m not talking about being their “friend” or covering up mistakes but being a support. Do they have the resources to do their jobs? Do they have work/life balance? Do you expect them to work 24/7? Do you know (or care) what their jobs are? Do you value them or their contributions? Or do you throw them under the bus when something goes wrong?

    If you don’t think any of this has to do with your managerial style, then you need to talk to these people. Sometimes letting people vent can clear the air and help them move on. Good luck.

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