In an episode of season four of the television show The Good Wife, Alicia (Julianna Margulies) was promoted to Partner in her law firm. Suddenly, she was in charge of the people who had been her peers within the firm.
Tensions are intensified when she is told by her senior partners to have the team reduce their billable hours for a client.
Most of us seek moving up to that next step on the corporate ladder. It’s a sign of success and recognition for all of your hard work
It also can create an awkward situation when you suddenly go from peer to boss with your co-workers. You may deal with jealousy and animosity from your former compadres who may feel that they were more deserving and may have been passed up for reasons other than hard work and competency.
It may also be very difficult for coworkers to view you as the boss immediately. One day you’re one of the guys stopping for beers after work, the next day, you’re on my back asking for status reports. It can be a difficult transition for both the promoted and the left-behind.
I was put in that situation at one point in my career. I was hired to manage a team, but it was in an industry in which I had little experience. As a result, I was hired as a team member to “learn the ropes”.
For a six-month period, I worked as a team member trying to come up to speed on what this team did on a day-to-day basis. Then, suddenly, the manager was fired and I (still the new guy) was promoted to manage my new and former team mates.
The first month was the most difficult. I had to deal with being the one who took over for a well-liked and respected manager.
I also had to deal with “Why him? He hardly knows our business. We taught him all he knows and then he’s catapulted into the management position?” I’m sure there was even a little, “It’s not what you know but who you know.”
After going through this experience, I learned few dos and don’ts about this type of transition:
- Create alliances within the team. If you can convince only one person on the team that you know what you’re doing, that can be the crack in the ice that you need to get some credibility with the rest of the team.
- Respect them. You may not have their respect on day one, but you will probably never get it if you don’t respect them first. Show your appreciation when they excel and let them know that you respect their abilities.
- Work hard. Continue to learn the business. Show them that you are working toward the team being successful, not just you and your career.
- Make sense. When you need to make changes, make changes that make sense, not just to put your brand on the group. Explain to the team why the old way wasn’t as good and why this will be an improvement. They may not agree, but they will know it’s not just an arbitrary move to exert your authority.
- Be reasonable. If someone on the team has a valid suggestion, hear them out. Let them know that you don’t see yourself as smarter than them, you just have different responsibilities.
- Try to win the team’s credibility with your resume or any other credentials. None of them are going to say, “Well he has a business degree so it must be a great decision.”
- Change everything all at once. The team has just dealt with a big change. If there are serious problems, the highest priority ones need to be changed and reasons given to the team for the change. But it’s good to go gradual rather than shocking the team too much too soon.
- Wait too long for change. Gradual change is good, but if improvements need to be made, they shouldn’t wait too long either. Prolonging the status quo will maintain the bad practices on the team that caused the last manager to no longer be there.
Being promoted to manage your peers takes the proper amount of diplomacy, authority and mentoring to deal with such a delicate situation. If it’s handled well, there comes a time when people forget that you were just one of the guys.
For more information, check out Career Management for Mentors
I welcome your comments and criticisms.