What happens when you get a new boss and then your job comes to an end?

Blog posts

5 Sep 2019

Ed Griffin

Ed Griffin, Director of HR Consultancy and Research

The news has been full of the story of the 21 Conservative MPs who have had the whip withdrawn for voting against the government. The consequence for these MPs is that they are effectively ousted by the party and will be unable to stand as Conservative candidates at the next election and are likely to lose their seat.

The situation for these MPs struck me as one that should have many parallels for HR professionals, but may well be something we often fail to give sufficient attention. The arrival of a new leader can have a range of ripples or rumbles through an organisation. There is often uncertainty about the way in which the newcomer will want to demonstrate their authority, and the speed with which they will act.

HR professionals have an important role in coaching line colleagues in how to respond to a new leader. At the same time, they have an equally important contribution to make in acting as the “wise counsellor” to the new boss. This may range from giving a clear brief to a new leader through to the more challenging task of being the one person prepared to give honest feedback to the boss about their impact. The risk is we tell people what we think they would like to hear, rather than to say what could be the most helpful. Clearly, in the current political context, it was almost inevitable that the new leader would act swiftly and probably dramatically!

The second thing that struck me about the news was the consequence of finding your career coming to an abrupt halt. The rebel MPs clearly knew the threat to their future of voting against the government, but most political careers will have included a degree of risk-taking. With some of the MPs having a political service of 30 to 40 years, the transition to a life outside politics may present both a shock and a relief.

For many people, their job takes up a major part of their life and their energy. As employers we not only have legal responsibilities for how we treat people, but we have a growing responsibility for the health and well-being of our employees. For line managers there can be a real attraction in exiting someone as quickly as possible once the decision has been taken. However, line managers have an on-going key role to play in supporting the well-being of their people.

I’m not expecting or advocating that the Chief Whip should provide outplacement support for the rebel MPs or now attend to their well-being, but us mortals in all organisations need to think and act carefully when it comes to moving people on or out of the business.

As HR professionals, it’s important to ask yourself:

  • How do we prepare our people at all levels of the organisation for the arrival of a new boss?
  • How honest are you prepared to be with a new boss about how they’re doing?
  • When someone’s employment comes to an end, how far are we prepared to go in supporting their transition?

In developing HR professionals I worry that there isn’t enough done to equip them to have strong, honest conversations. The risk can feel too great but if no-one is prepared to be honest and supportive with senior colleagues, how can we expect new leaders to know if they’re heading in the right direction? There’s also a challenge as employers for where duty finishes and compassion starts. Without clarity on this, organisations risk tying themselves in knots.

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.