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The Rookie Managers Guide to Office

Politics by Elaine Pofeldt and Adriana Gardella


retrieved 06h48 12/03/2010 http://www.bnet.com/2403-13059_23-401835.html?promo=713&tag=nl.e713

If theres one big workplace lie that any new manager should wise up to fast, its
There are no office politics here. Higher-ups may do their best to discourage gossip
and to foster a schmooze-free meritocracy, but lets be honest: Theres no workplace
on the planet where fostering good relationships isnt key to getting things done.
And now that youve become a boss, its even more important that you get the
political environment of your office and learn how to work effectively with higherups, peers, and direct reports. Here are five lessons to master in your first 90 days.

Understand How Your Role Has Changed


No matter how close your friendships with your officemates have been, its time to
put up some walls. If I were managing a colleague I once hung out with, Id stop
doing it, says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, co-founder of Six Figure Start, a career
coaching and consulting firm in New York City. Harsh as this may seem, if you dont
establish professional boundaries, you wont have the objectivity to supervise
effectively.
Patrice Williams, 39, a management consultant from Vallejo, Calif. learned this the
hard way. In her twenties, she moved up to team supervisor at IBM, where she
found herself managing a salesperson with whom she socialized on weekends. Soon
after, her pal began coming to work late, skipping meetings, and neglecting clients,
dragging down her sales in the process. Williams soon realized she needed to fire her
friend, but she just couldnt. Ultimately, her boss had to step in. I lost points,
explains Williams, who says it was hard for her to recover professionally. From that
point on, she changed her relationship with direct reports Im personable, but not
personal and learned to talk to them immediately about performance problems.
A few tips on how to head off awkwardness with former peers:

From the outset, tell everyone on your team how you will evaluate
performance. If anyone in the group slacks off or breaks the rules, it will be easier

to raise the issue in an objective way. If it is very clear what you are measuring,
you can say, This job requires x, y, and z. Im not seeing z, says Ceniza-Levine.
Confront poor performance head on. If someone friend or not is
failing, act decisively, says employment attorney Chad Shultz, a partner in the
Atlanta office of Ford & Harrison and author of Manage Your Employees or Get Out
of the Way: Ten Rules for Preventing Lawsuits. Give formal warnings, recommend
how to remedy the problem, and keep a written record of your conversations. If the
situation reaches a point where you have to let him go, you dont want him to be
surprised.

Voice of Experience
MY MISTAKE: I FAILED TO SET EXPECTATIONS.
All I ever wanted to be was a staff nurse, says Mary Parker, now a nurse manager.
Her early days in management were rocky. Because she values independence and
self-direction, she figured her direct reports (nurses and nurse assistants) felt the
same way. Parker assumed they would understand their responsibilities, work
cooperatively, and mentor each other. But thats not what happened. Instead, staff
members complained to me about the quality of their co-workers documentation
and care, Parker says. Policies werent being followed and we had close calls with
medication errors.

Know What You Dont Know


Many companies fall short when it comes to training new managers, says Shultz.
Your bosses wont expect you to know how to tackle every aspect of your new job
from the outset, but they will assume that you will ask for the help you need. So, if
your company wants you to take on a legally sensitive task such as giving
performance reviews, and youve never done it before, dont try to wing it. Ask for
coaching from HR or higher-ups. Without training, its easy for a new manager to
overlook the implications of what one wrong thing said can do, says Shultz. If you
cant get the level of help you need internally, sign up for one of the educational
programs at theSociety for Human Resource Management, which runs educational
programs in many cities, he advises.

Voice of Experience
MY MISTAKE: I DIDNT KNOW MY STAFF
Engineer Charlene Burke was a star in the field. I was exceptionally good at shortterm relationships my customers loved me. But soon after receiving a promotion
to a customer service call center manager, Burke no longer felt the love. She barely
knew her staff when she implemented a thank-you program that rewarded topperforming employees with a small gift card. Burke presented the first gift card to a
woman who had been with the company for 19 years. The effort backfired. The
woman was embarrassed to be singled out and praised for merely doing her job. The
staff was tight, almost like family, which Burke hadnt taken the time to understand.

Master the Unwritten Rules


If youre new to a company, understand that no matter how similar the culture
seems to others youve experienced, it is going to have its own unique and
sometimes bizarre quirks. Learn how things get done both the rational and
irrational aspects of it, advises Nat Stoddard, chairman of Crenshaw Associates, an
executive coaching firm in New York City, and author of The Right Leader: Selecting
Executives Who Fit. Listen carefully when colleagues volunteer tips on, say, the best
time of day to approach a senior manager, and pay attention when they tell stories
about the office. At the same time, says Stoddard, dont get too inquisitive. If you
are overly interested in learning something, they will wonder, Why? Whats your
motive? As you build your new colleagues trust, theyll volunteer more details.
Its easy to cut yourself off from a vital pipeline if you always eat lunch alone, a
common rookie mistake. Curt Braverman, a veteran manager who worked for 25
years at Pitney Bowes, realized this early in his career, when a colleague finally
pushed him to grab a bite and proved to be a font of useful information. If theyve
been around a while, theyll give you a hint of whats coming up and can give you
some tips that will make your job easier, says Braverman.

Voice of Experience
MY MISTAKE: I DIDNT CONSULT MY STAFF ON A KEY DECISION
As the new director of operations at a now-defunct software development company,
Stephen Balzac was tasked with managing engineers. He noticed right away that
each week the team wasted a full day in a marathon meeting where they tracked
software bugs using a primitive system. Everyone hated the meetings. So Balzac did
some research and bought a proper bug-tracking system. He thought everyone
would be thrilled. No more meetings! Instead, he met with passive resistance. Balzac
was baffled until he realized that his unilateral decision had offended the engineers.
They wanted to be consulted and made a part of the problem-solving process.

Be Loyal, to a Point
Be careful about seeming too closely aligned with any one person even your direct
boss, says Stephen Viscusi, CEO of the New York-based executive search firm Viscusi
Group and author of Bulletproof Your Job. The best job-protection insurance,
especially as a newbie, is to remain as neutral as possible on controversial issues, he
says. If your boss asks for a point of view, run through the pros and cons of a
decision rather than answer directly.
Should your manager ask for your support at a meeting, offer it, but remain as
neutral as possible when youre at the conference room table. If the boss
buttonholes you later to ask why you didnt speak up more, you can say something
diplomatic, like Maybe I wasnt emphatic enough, Viscusi suggests. Remember that
your boss could be gone tomorrow and you could be working for the person whose
point of view he opposed. You have to be a little Machiavellian, he says.

Build the Support You Need to Get Things Done


Showing your bosses that youre ready to take on new projects isnt just a matter of
stellar performance or demonstrating initiative though these things certainly help.
You also need to prove to the top brass that they can trust you in subtler ways. Many
new managers over-explain to direct reports why they must take on a particular task
and in doing so, pass along information from their bosses that was better kept
confidential. To establish trust with your supervisor, err on the side of keeping your

conversations quiet and, when in doubt, ask if the content is for general
consumption. Youll be on the hook for sharing that information, says CenizaLevine.
Youll also gain points by acknowledging that your bosses are privy to certain
information that you dont have. Say, for instance, that you ask your boss if you can
hire two more people but she says no. Rather than step up your lobbying, ask if
there is a reason for her opposition that she can share, or, perhaps, one that she
cant disclose to you right now, suggests Stefanie Smith, principal of Stratex
Consulting, an executive coaching firm in New York City. You never know the
company could be considering an acquisition that will fulfill that requirement, says
Smith.
Even with solid backing from the top, you wont be able to get anything done if your
team isnt behind you. This often means building support among longtime or more
senior workers including some who wanted your job and didnt get it. You wont
win any allegiance by reminding them that you have an MBA or that your last gig
was at an even bigger company. Meet with each member of your team individually to
learn about his background and ask for advice on upcoming projects. Let them
know youll be relying on their expertise, says Andrea Nierenberg, principal of The
Nierenberg Group, an executive training and consulting firm in New York City. You
dont have to act on the advice they give you, but listening carefully will go a long
way toward building the good relationships you will need to succeed.

Voice of Experience
MY MISTAKE: I HID IN MY OFFICE
Looking back on his days as a rookie manager for a contract staffing firm, Ken
Wisnefski recalls spending most of his time in his office with the door closed. I only
came out to criticize or discipline the staff, he says. I wanted to avoid getting
caught up in issues that were really my job to correct and prevent, he explains. Not
surprisingly, his staff soon resented him, whispering that he probably wasnt even
working while holed up. Now a business owner, Wisnefski says he goes out of his
way to lead by example. While I want them to respect me, I also want them to view
me as a co-worker.