Stepping into a Big Mess as a New Manager? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I started a new job as a senior leader for a large manufacturing firm about four months ago—and I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of the disaster I’ve walked into. All I heard about when I first came on was how much everyone loved my predecessor, how smart he was, how much he got done, and how much fun he was. It seemed that he generated incredible results. He sounded like Superman.

The further I got into the details, the more clear it was to me that the results were, indeed, incredible—because they were faked! But get this: he wasn’t fired, he quit. So nobody, including senior leadership, knows about this.

To make matters worse, he was everybody’s best friend. He never set goals with his people, gave feedback, or did performance reviews. He somehow charmed HR into letting him off the hook, but now I am being held accountable and my people aren’t used to anyone actually acting like a boss.

I don’t want to trash this guy—it wouldn’t make me any friends and it just isn’t my thing. But how on earth am I supposed to get things back on track here without making people hate me?

New Guy

Dear New Guy,

The last time I worked with a client in this position, she thought she was alone—but it turned out that the wool hadn’t been pulled over everyone’s eyes. I’ll bet if you diplomatically poke around, you will find the same thing. When the emperor has no clothes, there are always a few people who can see it.

It’s imperative that you come clean with your boss and your HR business partner. You can’t fight this fight alone. You may find out that they know all about it—that your predecessor was, in fact, fired, and they are testing you. That would be messed up, but I’ve seen it happen. However, if the news is all a big surprise to them, you will want to be gentle and stick to the facts. No need to call anyone names or place blame. Just share what you have uncovered as dispassionately and objectively as possible. Either way, you’ll create a few allies and buy yourself a little time to become the model manager.

Then do what you can to figure out what the true past results should have been and share that information upward. Your team doesn’t really need to know, and you might be able to preserve their fond idea of him.

Once you get a sense of the actual results, you can set your goal numbers a little above those—at least for starters. Approach your team by talking about team goals at first. You don’t have to trash the big faker; just talk about yourself. Share that you are goal oriented and a fan of goals and goal setting. Heck, show them this video of Ken Blanchard talking about it. Teach your people how to set goals and make it clear that you expect everyone on the team to have their own. You can also share your experience with giving feedback to help people stay on track.

Make clear that you think it is your job to help the business succeed by helping your people to succeed, and you want nothing more than each person’s success. Be kind. Be fair. Be patient. Go slowly and carefully and you will be okay. Yes, people may still hate you at first, but once they see you truly mean them no harm, they will stop hating you. And just remember, none of it is personal.

Forge ahead, do as well as you can, and stay positive. Everything is going to be okay.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard Headshot 10-21-17

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

One thought on “Stepping into a Big Mess as a New Manager? Ask Madeleine

  1. I believe that what “Mr. New Guy” is facing is quite normal and natural. This is perhaps the phenomenon called CHANGE! A motivated individual would first look to adapt and then perform. This is where our interpersonal and public skills come into play. A little chat with someone who has experienced a similar scenario and have gotten out of it may work out something really fruitful. Madeleine, your words are remarkable indeed.

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