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  • 11.11.14

Should New Employees Choose Their Managers?

Is it a workplace fantasy, or a management style that could actually work?

Should New Employees Choose Their Managers?
[Photo: Flickr user Feliciano Guimarães]

At a conference recently, I watched a video on the future of work. A young woman, Katya, starts a new job at one of the only two remaining accounting firms, “D&Y” in 2020. Among her first duties: Watching a short video presentation from five prospective managers, she then chooses the one she wants to work with.

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It’s an intriguing idea, even if, notes Jeanne Meister, a partner at Future Workplace, the organization that produced the video, it always draws “a gasp or a laugh.” People think it’s preposterous, but there are reasons to consider the concept.

First, unhappy new hires may quit before an organization has recouped the cost of hiring. After all, the saying is that people don’t leave jobs or leave companies, they leave managers. “Selecting one’s manager provides for the greatest amount of ‘voice’ for the new hire,” says Meister. “It’s like a marriage. It has to be right for both people.”

Second, such an approach is perfectly designed for the way many young people operate today anyway. “So much in the workplace is moving toward ‘design-your-own’ and customization, which are certainly appealing to Millennials,” says Lindsey Pollak, author of the new book, Becoming The Boss. It’s hard to get more customized than choosing your manager.

Meister notes that new hires can already read up on specific managers on online forums. “Never before have young aspiring job candidates had as much information at their fingertips,” she says. “If they want it, they get it.”

Indeed, veteran job seekers already know that interviews are two-way processes. Yes, a company is choosing you, but you’re choosing who you’ll work with closely, too. “Selecting a manager is actually really smart, quite strategic, and will essentially determine a great deal around the rest of your career,” says LinkedIn career expert Nicole Williams. Making this part of on-ramping allows a company to formalize what, to a degree, already happens.

Do People Really Know What They Need?

Of course, there are complications, too. First, to choose the right manager, “you have to know yourself,” says Williams. “A new employee may have no idea what kind of management style they’ll thrive under.” People may reflexively go for an easy-going boss, but perform better under a task master. We all like to think we work well independently, but the reality is quite different.

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Then there’s the matter of what prospective managers would say in their pitches. “We can all present well in video,” says Williams, and one can imagine prospective managers regurgitating whatever buzzwords will score points.

There are ways around this, though. Managers would be given specific questions to answer, which would revolve around stories of situations that worked well, and those that didn’t. If the manager gushes about how exciting it is to all be sitting around take-out late at night solving a problem, and you were hoping for a different lifestyle, that’s a big red flag. Better to know that, so you can select a manager who describes efficient meetings that get everyone out the door on time.

Meister says that while people gasp at the beginning of her presentations, by the end they’re often thinking about giving new hires a voice in staffing. “In a sense, it upends the whole process, but it could have very powerful, positive results,” she says.

About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at www.lauravanderkam.com.

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