Handling An Inherited Mess As A New Manager

I get that occasionally as a consultant or whenever we land a new ongoing contract.

From my perspective, it’s a fine start – it means there will be some obvious problems to start with as the new manager. There are low-hanging fruits, too, and improving the team efficiency and productivity is a no-brainer (minimal effort in the right direction will get some decent results).

Of course, this usually means a ton of work and having to break some eggs for an omelette. Toxic people will need to go away. Interpersonal conflicts should be put to an end. Slacking has to be limited to a great extent.

You will make some enemies along the way — it’s inevitable if you’re leading the change. There’s no way around it unless you quit and try to find a friendly and positive place in a well-funded startup where everything goes according to plan.

Who Needs To Be Your Priority As The New Manager?

One of the crucial questions to answer is:

Who do I serve?

Since you can’t please everyone, you need a specific purpose:

  • Your CEO/direct manager
  • Your staff
  • Your own reputation
  • The revenue (or your commission or something)
  • The purpose of the organization
  • Investors or board members
  • Some 3rd party partners/peers

Most people would pick senior management or cash. That’s not the only choice so pick wisely.

Once you know the answer, find out what the action plan is. Create a SWOT analysis of the business plan, your team, the financials, projects, or anything else you’ve got in place:

Swot Analysis
Xhienne [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

What Needs To Go Away?

In case some contracts are more profitable and fruitful than others, put more resources there. If some employees show tons of potential, promote them or give them some authority over the toxic staff.

That assumes you can assess the situation properly in a limited amount of time.

Then, turn the page and find out what needs to go away. People, projects, processes, tools.

The next step is “filling in the gaps”. Some restructuring has taken place and you lack strategic roles. This often comes in parallel with the previous phase, i.e. you’re losing manpower when you fire people so you need a contingency plan to fill up the quota. But sometimes, we’re talking about no loss when hiring someone who literally does nothing for 160 hours a month.

The pace of the change depends. The process itself can vary, too – you can start gently with some motivational talks, pumping up the team. Or jump straight in and revamp everything before you even introduce yourself to everyone.

If this is your first time as a manager, this may be an inappropriate place to start. It’s a challenging case that requires some experience in office politics, business development and growth strategy, finances, business processes in the industry, and then some. If this is outside of your comfort zone, it would be wiser to refuse the role and find something easier for starters.

Otherwise, it’s still a risky move. On the bright side, given a proper leadership sitting on top, you may be looking at a VP role or even a C-Suite position in a couple years from now.