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Guest AuthorHema Ravichandar

Surviving a change of guard

By | Hema Ravichandar | Strategic HR Advisory, former CHRO Infosys Ltd  

It’s happened to most of us at some time or the other, I would think. One sunny day as you happily troop into office, an unsuspecting You is suddenly invited into the Boss’ cabin. He may be sombre or sheepish. And just as alarm bells start going off in your head, he spells it out for you. “Wanted to let you know, old chap, that I’m calling it quits here. I feel I should move on now. I was keen you hear it from me of course.” And then in a feeble attempt at jollity, “Maybe you are even looking forward to seeing me go….”

You may of course agree with that last sentiment and mentally say “Hurrah”. But if it is the opposite, and it is with trepidation that you walk back to your desk with Alfred Tennyson’s “The old order changeth, yielding place to new….” clanging in your brain, then read on…

If you are the Cat’s Whiskers in your function, survival seems pretty much guaranteed in the New Regime. You will be wooed assiduously for your indispensable skills, not to forget the fear of losing talent to a departing boss or a competitor. So “Be Tops” is of course sound advice. Also, if you are seen to have a strong connect with your Skip Manager, or have a powerful sponsor in the system, any new boss will trifle with you at their own peril.

The suggestions come thick and fast. Go with the flow. Don’t resist change. Forsake torturous trips down Memory Lane, fondly remembering the Good Old Days of enlightened “Bossdom”. Even if such flights of fancy should beset you and odious comparisons come to mind, stay clear of putting thoughts into words. Even the walls have ears, and you don’t want the current powers that be to hear you wax eloquent about past leaders.

In fact, go one step further and flaunt Boss Neutrality on your sleeve. It’s a great epaulette to wear. Don’t run down the Dear Departed. That is definitely a No-No in most books and smacks of crass sycophancy and non-professionalism. But Past Boss Neutrality is above board. “Live by the refrain ‘Love your job, not your Boss’,” said one survivor to me. “I try to do that every time I face a change.”

Another seasoned campaigner shared her strategy with me. “Within a week or two of the joining, my new boss’ inbox would have my weekly updates, service-level agreements (SLAs) and other deadlines. The key is to ensure my deliverables are Stand Out, especially in the first few weeks. That visibility always pays off, especially in positioning me even vis-à-vis any of the loyalists he may bring to the team.”

Underlying this piece of “Don’t trip him up” advice is seeing how to make the Boss look good. “He is new to the organization. Shorten his settling down runway through droll insights. Identify off-the-organization-chart influencers for him. Signal that you are going to be a part of his team. Use this opportunity to become a trusted adviser. But as he finds his way, remember to stay in the background. Though tempting, don’t attempt to get bigger than the boss himself.”

The acid test, of course, is when the new boss comes in to fill a role you yourself had coveted and been in contention for. The degree of toughness is directly proportional to the publicity and probability that had been accorded to this possibility. Feeling bad is natural, but fuelling your resentment will only lead to a spiral of negativity. Subterfuge and unionizing the troops may lead to a possible overthrow. But the chances are remote and the problems many. Clearing the air with your new boss is simultaneously cathartic and a great way to move forward. Be graceful in defeat, for now; live to fight another day.

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