How to Switch Bosses: Five Ways

A bad boss is the number-one reason people quit their job. But is there another way?

It’s a common tale: The company is great—the boss, less so. Some surveys say that this situation will eventually drive as many as six in ten people to quit.

Is there another way? Most employees assume that trying to leave might upset the boss, not to mention result in low employee-review scores. But some coaches and HR experts say continuing to underperform is no answer.

This, they say, is a moment that calls for strategy. Here are five moves to consider.

Praise the current boss.

“What I’ve seen work well is playing to the manager’s ego,” says organizational-strategy expert Maria Amato, senior client partner at Korn Ferry. Rather than saying that you want to leave, explain that you want to expand your horizons further by acquiring skills and tools not currently available to you. This is a particularly savvy plan at many organizations, where promotions may be few and far between and lateral moves can help you to build valuable new skills.

Lay the groundwork.

In your conversation with your boss, share the specific things you feel they’ve taught you well. Perhaps they’ve deepened your understanding of a product cycle or management strategy or type of corporate messaging. The tone to adopt here is: I’ve learned so much about X, Y, and Z from working with you. “You need to hit that note for a while,” says Amato.

Suggest new directions.

What would you like to learn about that’s not within that manager’s wheelhouse, and how? If another manager is known for their proficiency in a particular area that’s of interest to you, that creates a pathway for a natural transition, says Amato. Check with the manager to make sure they’re willing to take you on as a direct report.

Share the news.

Are you comfortable having this conversation with the boss directly? “Ideally, that’s best,” says human-resources expert Ron Porter, senior client partner at Korn Ferry. “But it’s very possible they’re too volatile or otherwise challenging.” The message you’re seeking to convey is: I’ve so valued what I’ve learned, and I would like to develop my skills in this new area. “The person who tells your manager is you,” says Amato—because finding out from others could surprise, hurt, or anger them (or all three). You might even be able to enlist your boss’s support as you apply for a new role, which would be invaluable.

If you need to, loop in higher-ups.

Only reach beyond your boss if direct efforts have failed or a conversation with them is impossible. Porter suggests asking someone in HR for their feedback and/or help in solving a conundrum. Rather than dissing the boss, say something diplomatic like, “I don’t feel like we’re clicking, and as a result I’m not delivering my best results.” A savvy HR staffer will know how to handle the situation, says Porter, and might also be able to offer context-specific training to the boss. “There may also be others saying the same thing about the boss,” says Porter. 


For more career advice, connect with a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.