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New Manager Assimilation

Both experienced and novice managers’ face hurdles when inheriting a new team of employees whether they are internal or external to the institution or department. In this communication, the term “managers” refers to anyone at the university (regardless of title) who has staff reporting to them. The following are suggestions to help make your transition smoother.

Taking over the management of an existing team

While it is exciting to be the “boss,” successful transition into this role requires forethought and prioritizing relationship-building. You will walk the line between demonstrating professional competence and recognizing that the team members hold important information that you will need. How you balance competing needs in the honeymoon phase of managing a team will be influenced by your leadership style, your manager’s expectations and your portfolio’s organizational culture. Ultimately, your number one job now is to help others accomplish the responsibilities of their position in an outstanding manner.

Talk with the manager who is leaving the team

If possible, get the existing manager’s perspectives:

This manager’s input is information for you to consider and to validate over time.  While this information is valuable, you should also commit to forming your own perceptions and opinions about the employees who report to you as well as the employees who you will work alongside.  You can do this by establishing relationships with the employees.

If the departing manager offers to provide you with his or her personal notes on individuals, decline them as they are not your notes and observations, though you can certainly take your own notes of the discussion you have with the departing manager.  Anything “official” regarding the employee should be contained in the employee personnel file, which is probably housed by the department HR or administrative staff.

Ask the departing manager, or have your manager ask the departing manager, to provide you with an appraisal of each employee’s work against expectations for the year.  This will be helpful when it comes time for you to write an annual performance appraisal.

Understand your manager’s expectations for your team

In order for you to lead your team effectively, you have to understand your manager’s goals and how your team supports them. For instance:

Communicate with your employees

Meet your employees immediately.  Even if you have other priority issues, find the time to introduce yourself and let them know what to expect.  Make sure they know that you are available to them from the first day.

As soon as possible, schedule a one-on-one with each of your direct reports.  This is a vitally important step in taking over an existing team as it begins the process of you and the employee establishing a personal relationship which is the basis for building trust and credibility. Even though you are new and may not be familiar with projects or specifics, this time will be well spent.

Tips for employee one-on-one meetings

Although you have probably already had a quick introduction with the employee, open the one-on-one by telling them briefly about your background, your management style and philosophy.

Let them know you are interested in getting to know them and that you have some questions you’d like to ask.  For example:

Take some notes of what your employee says to refer back to as needed.  If you tell an employee that you will get back to him/her on something, or take an action item, be sure to do it.  You’re in the relationship-building phase right now and first impressions are important.

Either before or after the one-on-one meetings, look through the personnel files of your direct reports.  Get a sense of their history and what feedback they’ve been receiving on their job performance.  Again, you’ll keep an open mind about individuals until you have your own experiences with them, and understanding history does not conflict with maintaining an open mind.

Setting expectations with employees

Sometime in the first 30 to 60 days, you’ll want to meet individually with employees to recalibrate their job expectations.  It may be that those expectations are a good fit and you simply have a discussion on desired outcomes and what the employee might need from you as their supervisor.  Or, it may be that the expectations need some substantive changes.  In this case, you’ll want to collaborate with the employee to adjust expectations. While you need to make changes according to the department need, it goes a long way in building a positive relationship to say, “I want to get your input as I make plans for the future.” Once expectations are in place, you will have a basis by which to give on-going feedback to your employee, both positive and development-focused.

During the expectations discussion, it’s a logical time for you to stress how you will measure success for each of the expectations.  What would it look like if this person exceeded expectations?  What does meeting expectations mean? 

If you’ve reviewed past performance appraisals and tend to think (based on the assessments) that you may be a “harder grader” than the employee’s previous manager, give plenty of examples of what level of performance you would want to see to score “meets” and, especially, higher than “meets”. 

Performance Appraisals

Writing the first annual appraisals for your direct reports is complicated when you take over as manager.  The appraisal is to cover 12-months, but you may only have worked directly with your employees for a few months.  If you are lucky, the former manager left you some specifics on employee performance against expectations that you can draw upon for purposes of covering the full 12-months.  If you are without input from the former manager, try seeking input from your manager or other managers who may have worked directly with your employees on particular projects or tasks.  You will probably also want to ask each employee to provide you with a self-appraisal so you can see what accomplishments they believe they had during the year (including the time you were not around). 

It’s best to give benefit of the doubt to an employee for their performance level during the period of time that you are unable to assess.  So, assume their work and behavior met expectations rather than it not meeting expectations, unless the last documented appraisal coupled with your own direct observations and employee coaching sessions gives you contrary information.  If they communicate that they believe they exceeded expectations, ask questions.  For starters, what examples do they have that illustrate how they exceeded expectations?  Who else did they work with who may be able to provide you with input on the particular task or project?  Do they have any written feedback from their manager or a customer that is specific to the areas in which they state they exceeded?  Whatever approach you take in addressing the “missing” months of the year, do so in a consistent manner for each of the employees.

Address role and relationship changes

If you have been promoted to supervision from within, you may find yourself now managing a former peer with whom you have a friendship. Continuing to do things that remind others in the group of your friendship, such as frequent lunches or referring to weekend events you attend together, may breed distrust and a perception of unfairness among the rest of the team.  You’ll want to address this change with your now direct-report and friend quickly.

Consider starting a conversation with, “I value our friendship very much and want to maintain it, but as a manager of the group, I need to make sure that everyone on the team views me as being fair and consistent and not playing favorites.  So, our work relationship is going to need to change and I wanted us to talk about what it might look like at work going forward.”

Get ideas on managing performance

You can take advantage of services designed to help you manage change, resolve conflict, complete performance management forms, understand policies, and much more. Contact Strategic Workforce Solutions at 512-475-7200 to request services to help you improve your performance management skills or get assistance handling specific workplace concerns.