What has surprised me over the course of my career has been the number of times that even within a single organisation — and therefore in the context of the same culture — a single change of manager has radically, and rapidly, changed the dynamic of both my working environment, and therefore my relationship with the organisation as a whole.
“People leave managers, not organisations”
More than once I have been hired by one person, worked really happily with them for some time (these include the best managers of my whole career), but when that manager is changed the replacement does not support or back my judgement in the same way —including the worst two or three.
Is there such a thing as “Difficult second manager” syndrome?
Indeed, at a startup I was interviewed by the founder who I got on really well with, but was managed by the incoming CTO who just did not want to be challenged at all —a classic “bait and switch” maneuver, though I’m sure it wasn’t deliberate. Similarly, a CEO went out of his way to get me in to interview me, but the guy I got to do it just seemed to want to find fault.
I’ve said previously I’ve had two distinct types of manager — those that backed me and I was able to repay that faith, and those that didn’t and thus haven’t.
Most dangerous point
It is having built a relationship of trust with one manager the sudden change inevitably means a lower-trust relationship; even if trust were to be built up over time the new relationship marks the most dangerous point. If something happens at that point of lowest-trust it could be fatal for the relationship before it has got established.
Let’s consider the power dynamic; as the manager you have the formal ‘power’ to make or break, and represent your managee ‘up’ the organisational hierarchy. And you represent the organisation to that person. So, be very careful with what you say, your line-report may already be quite nervous, out of their comfort-zone.
If your line-report had a good rapport with their previous manager they might not feel Physiological Safe in the face of lines like “I’m not here to second-guess what your previous manager might have done” — in terms of an orderly transition it might be an idea to do that, before making changes further down the line, when you have the relationship established. I suppose, if you’re trying to move the employee on, manage them out the door, then fine, go ahead and mix things up; just be careful of constructive dismissal.
Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t difficult people to manage, I’ve certainly come across them, but what I try to do is get the best out of them and allow them to grow, giving them opportunities to do so whilst not letting them drown in them.