Careers advice

Working with a new manager: building that relationship

Making that first impression.

What you’ll learn:

  • Why it is important to have a good relationship with your manager.
  • How to create that good relationship with a new manager.
  • How to maintain a good relationship with your manager in the long run.

The New Zealand employment market is currently firmly in favour of job hunters, making it a great time to seek out dream jobs, higher pay or more flexible working conditions. With many Kiwis taking advantage of this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if your organisation or team is seeing a higher degree of staff turnover than usual.

While it can be sad and even destabilising when teammates leave, the loss and replacement of a manager is typically one of the bigger changes a team can go through, and one that can have significant impacts on your day-to-day.

So, what should you be prepared for when working with a new manager, and how can you best prepare for this transition?

Why is it important to have a good relationship with your manager?

There are so many reasons why having a good relationship with your direct manager is important. These include:

  • Having their support: your direct manager can make a great career mentor. After all, they were once in a similar position to you, and have climbed the ladder into a leadership role. Having a strong relationship with your manager can help you to tap into their knowledge and learn by watching how they deal with the realities of their job.
  • Getting opportunities: now, in theory, a good manager shouldn’t play favourites and only present opportunities to their friends. But if they know you well, and know that you’d love to be involved in a specific development opportunity, it’s definitely not going to hurt your chances.
  • Obtaining a reference: if you eventually decide to leave the role, you’ll want to ask your manager to provide a reference for the new position you’ll be moving into. Again, a strong relationship with this manager will be a great asset here.

Creating a great relationship with your new boss

1. Be supportive, but not sycophantic

Even managers need some time to adjust to a totally novel working environment, with new faces, processes and policies. In the same way that you’d offer to help a new co-worker get oriented, you can offer the same assistance to a people leader.

This could range from something as simple as showing them certain meeting rooms to introducing them to key stakeholders within the business who they’ll be working with. It might seem strange to do this for someone who is ultimately your boss, but it shows that you understand that they’re human too.

While you want to help, you don’t want to overdo it. Your new manager would likely find it uncomfortable if they find you waiting to assist them with every little thing. This would also mean that you’re not doing your job, which will ultimately impact your relationship with them in the long run.

Help your new boss get settled in.

2. Be open about your preferred management style

It’s likely that, during their first or second week in the job, your new manager will arrange 1:1 meetings with each member of their team. These meetings will likely involve conversations about things like personal development plans, objectives and also how you both want the relationship to work.

While it can be intimidating to tell this new boss how’d like to work with them, it’s crucial that y0u do this now, rather than telling them what you think they want to hear. For example, if you’ve had to deal with a micromanager in the past, this is the time to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. In this case, you don’t want to say something like “I don’t like micromanagement”, because no micromanager thinks they’re a micromanager. Instead, talk about how you like the opportunity to take responsibility for your own work, and set a schedule for regular but not too regular catch ups.

3. Set expectations

Early on in the relationship, you’ll also want to set expectations to ensure you’re both on the same page from the outset. There are a number of elements to this, including your KPIs and personal development plan.

It’s likely that your new manager will have taken over when you have multiple projects in the works. So the first thing you’ll need to do is bring them up to speed with where these tasks are at, what remains to be done and the timeframe you’re working towards. This allows them to get a handle on what you’re working on day-to-day, and ensures there will be no confusion regarding deadlines.

The other key element to discuss in terms of expectations is any upskilling you’re currently doing as part of your role. This is particularly important if you were working on this with your former manager – for example, in a career mentor scenario. Any decent manager will be ensuring that their reportees have as much access as possible to resources that promote upskilling, so your new boss should be keen to ensure there is no interruption to your development program.

It's important to set expectations early on.

4. Show initiative

As well as helping your new manager find their way around during their first days, this is also a good time to, subtly, show what you bring to the table. Again, you don’t want to be blatantly trying to curry favour or show yourself off as a know-it-all, but there’s nothing wrong with putting up your hand to take on a few extra tasks that might make things a little easier for your boss. This is particularly true if you’ve been at the organisation a while, and can act as a ‘caretaker’ in some elements of the operation while the new boss settles themself in.

Similarly, once your manager is comfortable with their surroundings, they’ll likely be keen to hear suggestions from their team about how things could be improved. These might be suggestions about streamlining processes, or something more people-focussed, like team-building ideas. While these are fantastic opportunities to show initiative, you need to be tactful and avoid anything that might be taken as a negative comment about your former boss (for example, “I suggested X ages ago, but they weren’t keen on it”). As we all know, New Zealand is a small world, and such remarks have a way of coming back to haunt you in the future.

How to maintain a good relationship with your manager

Like every relationship, the one you have with your manager will require continued work to maintain. A few things that can help you to do this include:

  • Maintaining an open channel of communication.
  • Volunteering to take on projects or lead workshops.
  • Being punctual.
  • Treating them with respect, but also being a friend rather than simply a reportee.
  • Being a reliably hard worker.
  • Asking for feedback to improve your performance.
  • Being prepared when you come to meetings.
  • Asking for their advice when making decisions.
  • Being a team player and helping out those around you.
  • Contributing to a positive workplace culture.
  • Hitting your KPIs.
  • Being a willing learner.
  • Offering to take work off their plate when they’re overloaded.
  • Knowing when’s a good time to ask about leave.