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I just started a new job in local government in a new town. This is a promotion for me and is a position that I've wanted for a long time so I was very excited about the opportunity. I went from a large organization to a much smaller one that has very few employees and as a result, staff must wear many hats. I knew that going into it and was fine with it.

However, the new job is not what I expected. I had to jump right into the deep end with little to no training on what I was supposed to be doing. I went from having almost no experience in human resources, payroll, accounting, etc. to being in charge of those areas in the new position. While I knew I would have more responsibility and welcomed the opportunity, I did not realize I would have no training and little professional support.

The previous person in my position did everything for the organization and she left without really passing the knowledge on to the remaining staff. As a result everyone is kind of floundering trying to figure out what's going on with the budget, accounting system, policies, contracts, etc. The more I've digged into the organizational details the more I realize what a mess it actually is. Now I'm wondering if I've jumped on a sinking ship. To try to fix some of the issues I'm working nights and weekends to try and do what I can to catch up. The problem is I started from a deficit and it seems as though no matter how many hours I put in, I'm still behind.

Has anyone else had this experience with a new position and got into a position that was not what they expected? How have you handled it? I'm determined not to let this job beat me but I need some help with coping mechanisms if anyone has some to share.  Many thanks!

Tags: coping, new job, overwhelmed

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Hi J - You might want to read Don's recent post:

He has some great advice there.

My sense is that you also might want to seek work-life balance right away. The work will still be there and the challenges will persist, but you'll want to take care of your mental and physical health. It sounds cliche, but no job is worth the toll this kind of situation can take on the rest of your life.

Is there a higher up in your organization that you can talk to about your concerns?

Can you find a coach / colleague that you can talk to regularly for advice and as a sounding board? 

It's a process: decompose large problems into smaller ones; prioritize problems to determine the sequencing, and delegate effectively (to ensure more people are contributing to solving problems with you).  If there are people who can't or won't work (likely enjoyed that your predecessor did 'everything') then document that as yet another issue to be addressed.  Check with stakeholders that you are working the problems that matter at the right time and not dissipating energy on the wrong task and/or the wrong time.  Encourage your staff but shift towards requiring their contributions (accountabilitity) with recognition for positive results.  There has to be a strong political aspect to such a position, don't overlook it.

J.J., this is a common problem for military officers.  Being one for over 20 years, I can relate to your situation.  Military folks are in a job 2 to 3 years if lucky and in many cases have never been trained for the "job."  So, what to do. 

Prioritize, pick your top problem, work it until its done.  Don't try and fix everything at once.  From where you are, it might be the budget first. 

Seek outside help.  You might approach your supervisor(s)/city manager/mayor and ask for an outside audit.  This can focus your problem areas and the audit can give you direction on where to start and how to proceed.  This might not be practical considering funding limitations, but even inviting another organization within your local government to take a look may be helpful. 

Don't blame the people.  This is an important one.  You need their coorperation, the support, and their shoulders to help you through this.  Even if you believe some of the current employees may be part of the problem, seek to include them in the process and allow them to offer solutions.  After all, they have been there longer.

Good luck and do us a favor here by posting what you find and your progress to success!  Love to hear this story play out.


I experience a similar thing earlier this year...not quite a mess like you're experiencing, but it was a similar experience in that I stepped into something that I wasn't ready for, but which I thought I was. I posted about here:

I agree with what Andrew said about it taking a toll on your personal life. I have been down that road with a previous job years took a personal toll on me and I felt worn down. It was not a happy experience for me at times and I wasn't even in a management don't have to be. 

I think it's common that you'll feel overwhelmed, confused, and even unsure of what you've stepped into. I think it's natural. However, I honestly believe that you need to also put your personal health first. Yes, it's your job and it needs to get done, but if it's taking a personal toll on your life, your health, your's not worth it. If you're not able to do it then work with your management to figure out some options. 

On the other hand, it sounds like you're in a position of opportunity where the way things were done in the past simply won't cut it anymore...they need fixing. You appear to have recognized that. So you're in a position to dig through the pile of muck and waste in front of you, and clean up things to get them moving forward correctly. Not only will doing that benefit your organization in the future and set it up for success, but it'll benefit you, your time, and your career down the road. It'll be a lot of work in the short term, but it'll have long term gains. If you're confident you can make it happen, then perhaps sticking it out and pushing through is the best approach.

You don't want to give up just because it's too hard or a pain. But you do need to consider all factors before making your decision on what direction to go next. Good luck

  1. Even though it seems like an extra burden on top of the everyday things you are trying to accomplish, document the high-level gaps that you are finding (e.g., no written procedure for tracking payments, etc.).  This document will help you in the next steps.
  2. With your supervisor, prioritize the gaps by criticality or risk associated with not processing them accurately, including possibility of law suits (e.g., hiring/firing), criminal cases (e.g., inappropriate handling of monies), and reputation (e.g., if the public finds out about it, what will their reaction be). 
  3. If possible, and with your supervisor's permission, contact the previous person to determine whether the procedures are documented anywhere (they may be on a personal drive that IT may have to retrieve).  If not, ask if she has time and is willing to answer questions from you and your staff on the processes/procedures.
  4. With your staff, determine who is best to research and document a standard procedure for that topic (it may be a group of persons, including people in finance, etc.).
  5. Set up project schedules for the development of the documents, and get status reports weekly.  Ensure that you give your staff set-aside time to work on these projects.
  6. When finished with the high-critical issues, work your way down the list.

I agree with Scott.  It sounds like you have identified and tackled the largest and most pervasive issue, and you should take comfort in knowing where to focus.  "The longest journey starts with a single step", and you now know the path.  From that knowledge and comfort come the beginnings of re-establishing work-life balance as you settle in and delegate responsibilities to manage the recovery.

One thing a good friend of mine told me years ago is "Train yourself; don't wait for your employer to train you." What he meant was to take an inventory of your skills/abilities and, if you see something is lacking then go get the training.


They wouldn't have hired you if you weren't the best person for the job. Do what you can during the hours you are supposed to be there, but for sure keep management in the loop.

Every job has seasons. Every job has grand plans. It sounds as if you arrived in peak. Find out if you are in a peak delivery or when your next audit controls set and get a head of upcoming events. Give your staff a chance to become great, you may find they're feeding off of your allusions, and you need to take a breather. Get job structures to compliment your staff members in their duties: public duties, customer support, or supporting others, schedules to time and attendance. Team members all should agree on one concept, everyone gets to go home!

So we know your taking this vehicle down the highway and changing tires. People. Processes. Systems. You have to find someone, in your current staff, to get this or set this while you’re going in your functional duties. Sometimes you look around taking you best staff to do it, mentoring. We all seem to agree you will need to find support. Transition of knowledge and audit controls prior to your acceptance should have drawn a line to set a benchmark and your mindset to change management or maintain. Someone is evaluating.

Be honest with your family, but don't let them become too concern or share your messages. Example, in highly hostile investor ventures, where several executive(s) failed business and commerce codes, a tactical project to protect investors where I had to move to take position, I hate those. You have made this step, you have moved, find trusted professionals in your operations, and share with family your intentions to have a natural support and balance to upcoming conditions.

Communicate and outreach.  You have to find competent staff members to take your strengths and build on it, or subK it out, while you are working on change projects or getting in a maintenance mode with staff. Go back to your audit controls and see where it came to be, prepare your controls. Payroll and HR is consuming due to cycles, an easy fix to a temporary deficit with a temporary contract to solve, as it sounds no members are taking ownership. Payroll will consume a small or large company at end-of-year or fiscal reporting. Accounting may be easy - it balances, some staff members may need to be tested to debit/credit transaction levels on income, expense, to cap accounts or simple banking, and your predecessor has to be evaluated. Define work, find out what they (staff) want…it is middle management for a reason. Good news you are pushing forward and welcoming, personality, or soft skills are going to help you evaluate your concerns to a "sinking ship". Don't dwell on predecessor reason for leaving, you have to take control, take ownership, and make it your own.  Ask for permission from your peers and best news this is not going to be last time you have to use these skills.

Check out Frank D - Framework to Managing Your Career -

There's a great section on DOOM loop and sounds like you are in a good spot where you like what doing but not quite good at it yet.  That's actually the best place to be as you are growing fast.  Although it can be really painful.

I've worked with local governments for many years and the situation with your predecessor sounds so familiar. A city or county government starts with one clerk who takes care of all the administrative work. As the city or county grows, the clerk stays in the job and continues to run everything, even when more staff is hired. Then when that person leaves it all comes crashing down because no one ever considered the place needed a "hand-off" plan.

My advice is to seek out advice from the administrators of other local governments in the area. Have lunch with one or two and pick their brains for how they deal with these tasks. Ask them for copies of their personnel and budget plans, etc. Find out what and when are the big deadlines, audits, state reports, etc. that they face each year. If you can find a real savvy administrator, try to work out a mentoring arrangement.

Other people have been doing all this before you -- take advantage of their experience. And reciprocate whenever you can. Don't think you have to go it alone.

Good luck.

Wow, thanks everyone for the excellent advice. It's always nice to hear from those who went through the same thing or have had a similar experience at some point in their career. I agree that I need to take one step at a time and try to prioritize. I am lucky in the sense that my staff and my city administrator are all really wonderful and hard working. However, we only have a few people in my office and that gets tiring on everyone. It's not a big city, but the demands are higher than you might imagine.

Again, I really appreciate your feedback! I'm definitely going to follow your advice and try to get some balance in life. I have a mentor locally who is helpful so I'll probably try to catch up with him sometime soon. I really like the idea of an outside audit. I think I'll look into that and see if it's feasible. Could really help us prioritize.

Yes, I know how you feel.  I am in a new job myself and it's nothing I thought it would be.  I am a secretary working for the Fed. Gov. in New Orleans, LA.  While I am happy to be home, the job I am in is nothing of what I was doing as a Secretary in another place.  I am not taught in this new job.  They let me sit in this job for over 3 months, I am now in my 5th month and still not trained in what I am supposed to do.  The other 6 secretaries are already trained and they came in later than I did.


In this job, we have" teleworking".  This is a process where you work at home for two pay periods and get work done.


You also need to go to your supervisors and let them know that you need help, especially in training in what you need to do.  This is what I had to do in order to learn something around here.  Also, go to the people you work with.  People who have been there longer than you and ask questions on how to do things.  I had to do this as well.


I hope this information helps.  You can email me @ anncatherinegraham@  I am willing to help you when you are down, eventhough I can't help you with budets and accounting.-Ann


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