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Getting a new boss, or what a near-complete system reset is like

A friend of mine who is an engineering project manager just got another new boss, his third in three years. I asked him what it felt like, in addition to the usual HR-speak of “change”, “reorganization”, and, well. . . you have heard all the stock phrases before, no need to repeat them here (and I am sure you have a few favorites of your own).

He said that the most dominant feeling he has is that it is as if someone pushed a “system reset” button on him and his work results. My friend is pretty sharp engineer and project team leader, with lots of substantial accomplishments at his company, yet he said that one consequence of the new boss coming in from the outside is that a lot of institutional memory of what he has done is gone. And while the new boss may be quite good (or in some cases, you're happy to see that old boss leave), there are still implications to deal with. In effect, he has to start building his credibility and competence account up, all over again.

The analogy I'll use is this: it's as if someone has zeroed out your professional-accomplishment bank account, or hit the memory reset while the operating system keeps running, and there is a high-priority system interrupt. Most engineers are pretty hard working and technically sharp. Sure, there are some slackers out there (check out Dilbert's fiendishly creative coworker Wally) who manage not only to do less but also make sure it is never their fault, but they are the exceptions. Yet when a new boss comes in, everyone's standing is reduced to the same “let's start fresh” balance sheet, perhaps with a little illumination from those generally meaningless performance reviews which say a lot without really saying anything, in many cases.

So, despite having worked hard, solved tricky and tough problems, and gotten projects done on time and out the door, the asset balance you have built up is reset to zero or close to it. At the same time, those who haven't “pulled their weight” get a break, since their negative account is also largely zeroed out.

The moral of the story is the usual one: sometimes, life just isn't fair. At least, that's the only consolation I could offer my friend, unfortunately. ♦

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