Management Spotlight: There’s a New Sheriff in Town

November 2, 2013 No Comments

It happens all the time.  The old boss retires or takes a job elsewhere.  When a new boss appears, the transition begins. 

The Immediate Reaction

When a new leader is selected, employees experience immediate emotions.  Some worry about their job future, some are happy to see the old boss go, some desire new change, and some are fearful of learning new procedures.  In all cases, the employees begin the process of testing the new boss, so they can see what freedoms they still have; what they can “get away with.”

During my wife’s 33-year career as an office manager in pediatric medicine, one of her most frustrating struggles with her staff was their use of cell phone texting in between rooming patients.  Recently, my wife decided to retire and a new manager was chosen.  The new manager trained for several weeks.  When my wife was nearing her last day and they were walking through the back office, the new manager noticed the subversive phone texting by some of the workers.  Without altering her stride, she walked behind the crew and said, “Put the phones away, ladies, there’s a new Sheriff in town!” Whammo!  Message sent.  The allotted time period for testing the new boss was over.

The Unwritten Rules

One fact that employees cannot grasp is that when a new boss takes over, employees need to pay their dues, and prove themselves all over again.  Many employees feel that they have been on the job longer than the new boss, and that the boss should trust them to know what to do and how to do it.  The reality is that the new boss is responsible for the performance of the staff and must learn everyone’s capabilities.  The new leader must figure out which workers are the pack mules, know their jobs, are kiss-ups, are back-stabbers, are lazy, like change or are dead weight.  The sooner that all parties understand their roles, the sooner the company can get past the “new boss” transition bump.

Who Suffers?

When a management change happens, the customers suffer the most.  New management always wants to make changes, many times to prove to everyone that they are qualified to be the leader.  Employees make suggestions to the new leader about changes they have always wanted.  Sometimes, employees tell the new boss that their personal procedural shortcuts were previously authorized.  The customer is the one caught in the middle and could experience changes that affect their service experience.   During this transition, some employees stop using their habitual shortcuts and return to the established written procedures for fear the new boss uncovers those shortcuts.  Again, the customer gets confused with the change in procedures, be they old shortcuts or new procedures.

Individual Responsibilities

Ideally, when a transition occurs, the employees should treat the experience like a new job.  The new boss must work quickly to learn the skills of the workers and have meetings to clarify new goals and any changes. Only necessary changes should be made; not changes merely for change sake or to prove some management power motive.  Upper management should observe the department in transition to make sure a smooth balance is maintained.  The customer’s role?  To remain a customer with reasonable expectations and to voice concern if proper service practices have been violated or unnecessary changes are happening.  The problem with the customer role is that customers do not always voice their opinion, they merely take their business elsewhere.

What Can Be Done?

The company should work to make sure that the same great customer service is maintained while management changes occur.  Trusted staff and the new boss should monitor the customer service experience to make sure proper and established procedures are followed, and changes are only made when they are necessary to improve efficiency and the customer experience.  Once the staff feels that goal has been met, then an annual review of procedures should be put into place to maintain the agreed upon service quality.  Be alert to the ripple effect.  A change in your department may seem justified, but it could alter how other departments perform their jobs, thus altering the customer experience from another part of the company. Continue to survey your customers to assure that the new sheriff in town did not mess up the law of the land.  The new boss must understand that they answer to the employees, his or her immediate boss, the company as a whole, and the customer.  Bosses, new or otherwise, should always enforce established rules and if a procedure is outdated, get it changed officially.  This will build trust between workers and employees, regardless of time on the job.

Get Rid of the Creeps 

It is not what you think.  I am not talking about a person that you think is creepy.  I am talking about “creeps” – unapproved policy or procedure changes – in a facility or attraction.  Management is all about training on and maintaining details and procedures, so an operation will run efficiently and continue to be profitable.  If operating procedures get sloppy and unapproved procedures “creep” into the workplace, the consequences can be serious.

About The Creeps

After my brother retired from a popular amusement attraction, it went though several management changes.  The executive staff decided to streamline operating procedures by reducing management positions.  The overall review and approval of employee timecards was shifted from management to the line supervisors and relief staff.  There was no longer any management supervision for this task.  As we know, labor law in regards to hours worked is extremely intricate:  How many hours a day can an employee legally work, how many days a week can they work, how late in the day can a minor work, are there certain jobs off limits to younger employees, can you add hours to a timecard for an employee who failed to take a lunch?  Such power in the hands of inexperienced supervisors could easily lead to favoritism with co-worker hours, not to mention legal and financial repercussions.

This scenario is an example of how inefficiency can “creep” into the operation.

Another Creep

In tough financial times, there is always the temptation to cut back on management staffing.  It often appears as an easy route to budget control.  Soon, more tasks are delegated to line employees.  Those workers do not have the leadership or education to look for trouble spots and eliminate them.  When inexperienced staff is put in charge, they start implementing their own procedures that seem like good ideas to them.  In an operation of multiple departments, a small change in one area can negatively impact another department.   Again, laws can be broken that the supervisor is unaware of.  Wasteful or illegal procedures start to creep into the operation.

The Short-Cut Creep

The safety creep is the most dangerous, and it comes about by the silent or vocalized approval of short cuts.   With a reduction in staff, short cuts become the falsely obvious ways to save time and energy.  For example:  instead of keeping the floor mats down in the food service kitchen until closing, employees may be permitted to remove the mats for cleaning hours before closing, creating a slip and fall hazard.

The Money Creep

How about saving time by leaving the cash draw open when it is busy, and making change as fast as customers can pay for their purchases?  When a veteran director I know assumed control of a failing merchandise operation, this procedure was in full swing.  When the veteran director reported this to the controller, the controller said it was illogical and no employees would do such a thing.  The director promptly walked the controller to an operating guest service window to illustrate the point.  It seems a rookie supervisor had implemented the procedure to make lines move faster because the general manager had walked by, saw long lines and directed the service to speed up. The supervisor believed this was the best way to solve the problem.

OK, So Now What?

I have given you a few examples of the types of “creeps” that can infiltrate your operation.  The solution is not simple.  It pays off, but it is difficult to quantify.  It is like mopping up a liquid spill in a restaurant.  You can never know how many slips and falls are prevented by keeping the floor surface clean.  But your years of management experience tell you that prompt spill clean-up is the right action to take.

Management must work hard get out and about and be alert to conditions or procedures that are out of the norm.  Do not permit changes merely because the staff is bored with a procedure.  When a strange procedure creeps into the operation, find out the reason why before eliminating it.  You will then learn the mindset of the workers who made the change.  You will also learn what procedures are currently ineffective and why, before you elect to change them.  And, most importantly, workers genuinely appreciate managers who pay attention to details.  Employees want to know that management cares and is involved.  Not micromanaging, but involved.  Managers who are lazy or do not pay attention to the entire operation can eventually give you the creeps. -

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