avatarJan Cavelle


Leadership | Management | Change

A Manager’s Survival Guide

Thriving Under a Constantly Changing Leadership

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

I talked to my old friend, Alice, last week. She had to cancel dinner to meet her new Managing Director. “Another one?” I asked.

Whenever I meet with her, the management of the company she works for is changing.

If it isn’t one of the directors, it is the MDs themselves. I have trouble keeping up. This must be the fifth MD in under ten years.

As an outsider, only one of these changes had made total sense to me, and that was when the company was acquired by a big corporation. That time, it was no surprise when the old management team disappeared by mutual agreement, and the new owners appointed their own people.

But it has continued. And so effective is their internal PR system that Alice always earnestly assures me that yet another change is a good thing.

Reasons for a change in management

Some of the reasons companies like Alice’s choose to change their management are easier to understand than others.

  • If a group of senior management has continually failed to reach targets, there comes a time when any board or overseeing company will call time. While usually financial results, this could include a major hit on reputation, needing a drastic (and public) solution.
  • If the overall financial climate is challenging or the market is exceptionally pressured, stakeholders may decide to bring in one or more people with specific previous experience in similar situations.
  • If the company needs to shift markets, the powers that be may want to bring in some people with experience in the new marketplace or with skills relevant to that market.
  • Values and vision may have become diluted by wrong-choice leadership in the past, or it may have become necessary to re-align these with more contemporary thinking. We have all seen old-school managers who struggle with the relevancy of environmentalism or diversity, for example.

It is always difficult to decipher via Alice’s corporate speak when someone has genuinely decided to leave or retire, or if they were negotiated out. In fairness, people do move on.

When new people come in at the top, many want to bring in their own senior team. Others cause immediate disruption on arrival that the old school managers are desperately pushing out their resumes before six months are done.

Another cause of problems is the expectation of immediate results. There is a colossal pressure. Another is that no new leaders are infallible whatever the level.

Lower down the scale, people like Alice are left with continual upheaval and adjustment.

Decisions on paper taken by people far removed from the environment may seem sensible but can cause long-term problems for mid-managers.

In an Ideal World

Ideally, leadership changes are planned well in advance, successors nominated, with both sides working together to ensure a smooth transition. The detailed plan is known by all.

The transfer of data and know-how is efficiently done, well documented, and easy to follow. Communications are aligned from all parties.

Strong relationships will already be in the process of development between the incomers and mid-management. Trust will be well on the way to being established. But we don’t live in an ideal world.

Change of leadership is often too fast to allow for ideal transitions.

One moment, the Alices of this world will be no more than slightly twitchy about the possibility of change, and next, they will be coping with a brand-new boss and a vastly unsettled team. Adaptability is everything.

“Flexibility in times of great change is a vital leadership quality.” — Brian Tracy

It’s a real test for a manager to survive and thrive.

How to ensure you and your team thrive

Photo by Denny Ryanto on Unsplash

However much you hope for a rosy future with your new leader, the reality is that you will likely find yourself in a very uncertain world.

The newbie will be coping with a new position and fresh expectations and pressures from above and remain distanced.

To them, you are still an unknown quantity who will have to earn their trust. You may feel rudderless for a time until this situation resolves.

You can find ground yourself by focusing on your strengths and working with your team. This will have the double benefit of helping you, and your team while delivering results for new management. It is a win, win, win.

Here are 7 areas to help both you and your team:

1. Familiar routines

Familiar routines are the best possible tool for making people feel secure in times of unrest. If you have a group meeting on a Monday morning, keep doing it. If you hold individual ones on Thursdays, don’t let that change. Keep the normal routines with your team unchanged.

2. Communication is critical

Be open about what is going on with your team. Allow plenty of time to chat about any concerns they may have, allowing extra for any one-to-one meetings that may be needed. Empathize while showing a “business as usual” face yourself. Be transparent about the challenges but focus the team on what is known about the future.

3. Focus on the whys

By “whys” I mean why they are there, the vision for your team — and the company if that is compelling. These give people a reason to commit to making the new situation work. Tie in both goals and expectations with that. The team still needs to deliver, possibly even more so under a new and critical eye.

4. A joint sense of purpose

All this provides a joint sense of purpose to help pull you and your team closer together. But importantly, setting goals and targets will give reasons to celebrate when any are achieved. Re-introducing energy and positivity is vitally important.

5. Prioritize PD

This is an ideal time to revisit your team’s personal development plans. Again, it gives them each something to align with, a sense of purpose they can still buy into.

6. Soak up the knocks

They aren’t personal. Remember that you are the buffer zone between the new management and your team. That means absorbing some shocks but gathering continual feedback from your team should help you be prepared and able to cope with anything from their side at least.

7. Reframe and develop

Reframe the situation as part of your own personal development plan, working with a mentor on it ideally. Or you could choose to delve deeper into change management with some studying, such as the Landing Transformational Change studies from the CIPD in conjunction with the University of Bath.

Coping with unexpected change is a vital management skill set.

A chance to shine

The road to installing new leaders is fraught with dangers. Even more so if the powers that be have decided on a clean sweep, out with the old and in with the new approach so that wherever you look, it is new faces.

The casualties of new leadership are usually those people in the center of the sandwich, the managers.

Often left unsupported, expected to know information and styles of working that the new leaders are familiar with from elsewhere, and with their teams flailing and panicking and worried about their future.

However, by giving your team your relentless focus and support, you can ensure their welfare, increase results, and protect your own levels of stress through the handover period.

You may then emerge as the new leader’s most valuable asset.

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