Every organization has written and unwritten rules. Written rules and policies require written changes, which are generally shared and acknowledged. What trips many people up about new bosses are unanticipated, unrealized changes to the unwritten rules. When you get a new boss, do everything you can to read the unwritten rule changes and adapt to your new boss’s rules immediately. When you are the new boss, help others understand your unwritten rules as part of your onboarding.

At Lever Brothers in the early 1980s in the New York metro area, the written rules were that salesmen should be in their first store by 8:00 a.m., complete each call’s paperwork at the end of the call and leave their last store after 5:00 p.m. and call on nine stores per day.


In an effort to minimize unproductive travel time I had the salespeople on my team save their paperwork for the end of the day and call on as many stores as they could between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm, then drive home and do their paperwork there. This allowed each salesman to complete an average of one extra sales call per day.

When I moved on from the area, I made sure the salespeople knew to go back to their normal 8:00-5:00 routine so they wouldn’t get in trouble with their new boss.

In an earlier article on Seven Keys to Adjusting to a New Boss I suggested:

1. Foundation – Treat your new boss decently.

2. Attitude – Choose to be optimistic.

3. Approach – Proactively tell your new boss that you want to be part of the new team.

4. Learning – Present a realistic and honest game plan to help the boss learn.

5. Expectations – Understand and move on your new boss’ agenda immediately.

6. Implementation – Adjust to your new boss’ working style immediately.

7. Delivery – Be on your “A” Game.

Since many of the changes in unwritten rules have to do with implementation, let’s dig into that. Think in terms of control points, decisions and communication.


Control Points

Different bosses have different biases in terms of metrics and processes for controlling what is really going on. You’ll need to understand and switch to the things your new boss wants measured, tracked, and reported and how – and what is not being formally tracked but informally watched in the shadows.



Different bosses want to have different roles in different decisions. Get clear on what decisions your new boss wants to make himself or herself and when he or she wants to have input into your decisions, be informed or not be informed.



Understand your new boss’s preferred communication modes, manner, frequency and method of disagreement.

• Mode refers to the type of communication: e-mail, text, We Chat, voice mail, in person, and so on.

• Manner is the style of communication: more formal and disciplined or less so.

• Frequency is how often your new boss prefers to be communicated with: daily updates, weekly, only when the project is completed, and so on.

Different bosses have different tolerances for being wrong and openness to disagreement and may suggest:

1. Never disagree with me.

2. Challenge me one-on-one privately.

3. Challenge me in team meetings; but never let anyone outside “the family” know what you’re thinking.

4. Challenge me in any meetings, but gently.

5. Gloves off, all the time, because public challenges communicate the culture we want.

Ask about this, but don’t believe the initial answers you get. Initially, start at the top of the list and wait to see how your new boss responds to disagreements and challenges from others before you start disagreeing with or challenging him or her.


Beware Of The Implications Of Your Choices

Do understand that there is risk in being too adaptable to your new boss and losing perspective on what really matters and why. If your new boss is asking you to do something that goes against your organization’s fundamental values, push back – hard. Adapt to your new boss – appropriately.