Recently promoted...how to handle former peers who are being difficult?
October 5, 2012 5:34 PM   Subscribe

Recently promoted...how to handle former peers who are being difficult?

Short Story: Recently promoted. People that used to be my peers now report to me, and some of them feel like I should stay out of their business because they "know their area better than me". How would you handle that?

Really Long Story:
I was originally brought in to help complete a critical company project that had already taken three years and was expected to take at least one more. My team finished in a few months after I got there, way ahead of schedule.

The CEO viewed this as excellent leadership, I viewed it as a great group of people who just needed some guidance, and I was lucky to be put in charge of that group. I let the CEO know this repeatedly.

Shortly thereafter a top executive stepped down to retire. He managed roughly 90% of the companies operations. CEO approached me to replace the executive. I accepted, with the caveat that I'm going to make mistakes because of my experience level and I need 100% support from the top.

I'm now the number two person in a company that employs more than one thousand people worldwide. I love it; it's fun and it's challenging.

My approach to management is to help everyone grow and improve, personally and professionally. Set achievable goals and see how they get there on their own or help them get there if they need it. I love critical discussion and direct feedback. Some of my best teams are the ones I've argued with, constructively, and we end up with the best solution at the end.

So I've taken this "I want to help you achieve more, but I'm going to ask a lot of questions", approach to this next phase of my career, but for two of my former peers, it's backfired.

One of them actually said to me, "I never meddled in your business, why are you getting into mine?" They try to justify their position to the CEO, in front of me. They explain how much experience they have in their position and all they have accomplished with the company. I can't help them with anything and their track record speaks for itself. With one of them, I never had a great working relationship because they would miss deadlines that affected my group. The other was fine until the promotion.

I've thought of letting one of them go, but I don't want it to scare others into thinking, "we have to agree with him or he'll fire us"...there would be no constructive discussion anymore. I also believe part of it has to do with my age, but that's harder to determine, I'm in my late twenties.

How would you handle the situation?
posted by MeatFilter to Work & Money (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Address the behavior in private. They need to be told politely, directly, that it's not helpful when they refuse to answer questions and you need them to stop doing that.

It's not a debate, an argument, a threat, or a discussion about motives. It's a short, simple request that they change their behavior.

If repeated requests to eliminate the negative behavior are ignored, then termination is on the table, but you're right to be concerned that moving too quickly to terminate could not only make you look tyrannical, but losing knowledge and talent is quite expensive.

I'd suggest finding mentors (other than the CEO) to help you with some of these matters. You can learn a lot from mentors and they'll have the advantage of getting to know your personality and the players, so will be able to provide you with nuanced guidance.
posted by grudgebgon at 6:14 PM on October 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's probably your age and fear that they'll be fired.

Listen to them as much as possible - let them show you how much they know. They may not understand that 'growing and improving' is your management style - they may just think there's something wrong with them (whether that's true or not). They might not also want to grow and improve. It's hard to know.
posted by heyjude at 6:16 PM on October 5, 2012


Grudgebgon, where would you recommend finding mentors? Part of the reason I'm asking on MeFi is because I'm not even sure where to look for something like that. I could ask my parents, but an "office job" is something they aren't familiar with.

My guess is local networking, which I haven't had a lot of time to do, but beyond that MeFi is the only place that I know that offers reasonable advice.

I've gotten here through a series of very fortunate events running back 5 years or so. So I didn't have a lot of time to develop strong mentor relationships in previous jobs.
posted by MeatFilter at 6:31 PM on October 5, 2012


A little one-on-one humanity might be useful, "hey man, I know we used to be peers, but this is the way it is now. I'm not trying to screw you, but I have to get up to speed on what a bunch of people are doing, and you're a people, capisce?"

There's going to have to be a Road to Damascus moment somewhere. "It's not either of our business, it's the company's business." You can tell them that popping off to you in front of the CEO is not going to change your position in the company, but it sure as shit might affect theirs. If you tell this to the one who is a slacker, be sure to put them on notice that they are already on relatively shaky ground HINT HINT.
posted by rhizome at 6:31 PM on October 5, 2012 [7 favorites]


Have you listened to any of the Manager Tools podcasts?

http://www.manager-tools.com/
posted by JaneL at 6:36 PM on October 5, 2012 [9 favorites]


Seconding grudgebgon's advice. You can be a team leader or you can be a friend/peer but you can't do both. If they report to you then you need to know exactly what they are doing at any given poibt in time - that's your job if you are going to do it well. Shut down the dissent in private per grudgebgon. If they have an issue with that then go to the person above you (if it's the CEO then so be it) explain the situation and arrange for the following to occur: have problem person explain his views to both of you at which point your superior will then explain to the problem person that you have his complete support and that Mr. P.P. needs to get with the program. If you don't have the backing of your superiors then you have no leadership position.
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 6:44 PM on October 5, 2012


Are you growing and improving them in the areas they already kick ass at? As long as what they suck at doesn't fuck up what they are great at, you need to accentuate the positive and cauterize the negative. A team is made up of people who all excel in different things. Put your people in places where they can kick ass.

Also, Pushback is not insubordination, it's a cue. Collaboration requires pushing on all boundaries. Listen.

As to the one who is missing deadlines, as long as no one dies because of it, you could take a year to nudge them out of their funk. At the halfway mark you need to hand that person the most important top priority project. Your high perfomers will enjoy the break and that person will enjoy the challenge. Your top performers need to be privately and clearly instructed by you to mentor said person.

My secret for team development is to regularly go out for beers with my team after work, get into drunken tiffs and have many, many, drunken "LHIOB" moments.
posted by roboton666 at 6:45 PM on October 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


I didn't find any of my mentors in dedicated "networking" events, though my wife has found them there.

I got mine through a mix of serendipity, and calling up senior folks from my earlier jobs and asking if they'd sit with me for a coffee/beer/dinner and share some insights. When that first meeting went particularly well, I asked if I could repeat semi-regularly.
posted by grudgebgon at 7:15 PM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


from Podkayne:If they report to you then you need to know exactly what they are doing at any given poibt in time - that's your job if you are going to do it well.

Actually, I have had managers that have never hassled me with this kind of crap, and we've both been very satisfied with the relationship and the outcomes at work. This sounds like what I would call 'micromanagement' and would make me very unhappy at work.

This comment: I love critical discussion and direct feedback. Some of my best teams are the ones I've argued with, makes me think that you may be a 'my favourite form of interaction is the only way' type, which is nuts. If you haven't managed that many people previously, perhaps you are only now running into the problem of reports that don't have the same style as you.

So I've taken this "I want to help you achieve more, but I'm going to ask a lot of questions", approach to this next phase of my career,
Is there something that makes you think they are not already achieving acceptably? Are your new reports enthusiastic about the idea of achieving more, or do they think they're doing perfectly fine already and you're just getting in their way with your over-enthusiastic newbie attitude?
posted by jacalata at 7:36 PM on October 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


If they report to you then you need to know exactly what they are doing at any given poibt in time - that's your job if you are going to do it well.

This is the opposite of good advice. If you think somebody is so stupid or untrustworthy that they need that sort of supervision, fire them immediately. If they don't, then trust them to do their work.

OP, when you say "I want to help you achieve more, but I'm going to ask a lot of questions", does that mean you're doing so every day, or more than once a day? Because, particularly if it's unscheduled, if you're interrupting people's work to ask those questions then that's a crap way to manage people who need to focus on their jobs. And I guarantee that these two aren't the only people who feel that way; everyone else is just keeping quiet about it.
posted by mhoye at 8:29 PM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


jacalata: interesting reaction to podkayne's post. I read podkayne and assumed it was sloppy writing (that he was advocating general awareness of status, not micromanagement), but I can see where it could be interpreted literally which would be terrible.
posted by grudgebgon at 8:47 PM on October 5, 2012


You need to establish your authority asap. Be polite but firm that they need to get their act together and accept the situation. Simple.
posted by pakora1 at 10:10 PM on October 5, 2012


How have you reconciled your "Set achievable goals and see how they get there on their own" stance with your "I want to help you achieve more, but I'm going to ask a lot of questions" approach? I know this is a quick AskMefi description but they sound like two different things.

If the achievable goal is let's say to deliver $250,000 of service to Client X over the next 12 months, and Joe Formerpeer is competent to run the account, are you having a scheduled Client X status meeting with him and his staff involved with this client every four weeks, or are you asking "Just wanted to check how Client X is going Joe" every time you pass in the corridor? I have had managers adopt both approaches and in fairness done both myself. If they are objecting to something like the former that's totally unreasonable. Document, document whatever you decide. But for sure a 20-something taking over from a retiree may be something that has rocked the former peers back a bit and surprised them, and if you are not micromanaging a meeting establishing firmly that you are their line manager now and expect and need reasonable reporting is in order.
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:59 PM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


This rule or thumb has served me well: a brand new hire straight out of school needs checking in with daily until they get their sea legs. A more experienced employee can manage a week on their own. Someone who (competently) manages people or large projects can go a month, and someone who manages managers or major strategic initiatives can plot an entire quarter's course without their manager's intervention.

Like all rules of thumb this is at best an approximation (which assumes your reports are performing well), but it's probably not far off from what your employees expect from you. If your approach is a drastic change in rhythm from what they're used to, there will be friction that you'll need to work through.

Managing former peers has all sorts of potential for awkwardness. To directly answer your question, I'd give each person an amount of latitude commensurate with their seniority and see how things play out for a bit. You're leading leaders now, and your primary value is removing obstacles that slow them down.
posted by SakuraK at 12:18 AM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


If they report to you then you need to know exactly what they are doing at any given poibt in time - that's your job if you are going to do it well.

This is the opposite of good advice. If you think somebody is so stupid or untrustworthy that they need that sort of supervision, fire them immediately. If they don't, then trust them to do their work.


There is a difference between "knowing what your employees are doing" and "constantly checking up on your employees." If you're managing them well, you won't have to ask them all the time -- you can simply be confident that most of them are working on Project A, a few are working on Project B, and oh god that damn report is due tomorrow I better wander over to Mark's desk and see whether he needs help because he always freaks the hell out the day before the report is due and just needs to be nudged back onto the path. This does not mean that Mark is a bad employee -- it just means he has this particular quirk that needs to be managed.

Explain to your employees (each of them, separately) that you are not yet perfectly in the place where you can confidently state to your boss that Individual Employee Mark knows his job, he knows your expectations, and you are pretty consistently aware of his day-to-day workflow and process. Tell him how close you are to that place and ask how the two of you, together, can get you to that place and get Mark to the place where he knows that you expect a status update on that damn report the day before it's due so you can help him out as necessary. Make it clear to your employees that you have reporting requirements that they don't necessarily know about, and the good ones will realize that A) you're not asking them for status updates because you think they're incompetent, and B) you won't ask if they tell you first.

As for Mr. I've Been Here Longer, is there anyone who's been at the company even longer than him, in any capacity whatsoever? Ask whether that person is more qualified to do his job than he is. Seniority != suitability.
posted by Etrigan at 2:42 AM on October 6, 2012


Seconding the recommendation for Manager-Tools. In fact, this one might address your situation directly.
posted by Crankatator at 5:16 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


OP, when you say "I want to help you achieve more, but I'm going to ask a lot of questions", does that mean you're doing so every day, or more than once a day? Because, particularly if it's unscheduled, if you're interrupting people's work to ask those questions then that's a crap way to manage people who need to focus on their jobs. And I guarantee that these two aren't the only people who feel that way; everyone else is just keeping quiet about it.

That means I ask, maybe once a week, to get an idea of what they are working. For this particular individual I'm just now getting to their area of the company. Prior to this I've been getting myself familiar with other locations and departments...so they're next on the list.

If you haven't managed that many people previously, perhaps you are only now running into the problem of reports that don't have the same style as you.

This could be the case. I don't have the breadth of managing experience that I would like to have. I consider myself pretty adaptable and patient to other approaches. It's open lashing out and negativity towards me that I'm not sure how handle effectively.
posted by MeatFilter at 11:13 AM on October 7, 2012


How have you reconciled your "Set achievable goals and see how they get there on their own" stance with your "I want to help you achieve more, but I'm going to ask a lot of questions" approach? I know this is a quick AskMefi description but they sound like two different things.

To me they aren't really conflicting, although I could see that. I ask questions because I want to understand more, but I'm never going to ask someone to do something differently if they are achieving results. If they have a track record of falling short, then asking questions turns into telling them what to do and when to do it.

But the question asking is more for my benefit so I can understand the thought process. Rarely have I changed the direction someone is pursuing. Only after they fail to meet their objectives do I get involved.
posted by MeatFilter at 11:16 AM on October 7, 2012


Managing former peers has all sorts of potential for awkwardness. To directly answer your question, I'd give each person an amount of latitude commensurate with their seniority and see how things play out for a bit. You're leading leaders now, and your primary value is removing obstacles that slow them down.

This is an excellent point. Leading leaders is different than leading individual contributors...it's an adjustment I'll have to learn.

The seniority comment is interesting because I've never placed much value in that. I've moved people that were managers to line workers and moved up people that had more ability. It's one of the things that I kind of pride myself on. Judge on ability with no preconceived notions. How long they've been with the company or what others say about them don't impact me, I judge them on what I'm able to see them accomplish.

Unless, by seniority, you mean position within the company. Then that makes more sense to me.
posted by MeatFilter at 11:27 AM on October 7, 2012


Thank you for the responses everyone.

I'm going to check on Manager Tools on the recommendation of a few posters.

I'll keep my patience and see how they perform when I give them things to do. In addition to private conversations about their behavior, there is definitely something I'm not seeing.

I'll be discussing with the former person in my position to see how he handled the individuals...kind of a stop gap mentor.
posted by MeatFilter at 11:34 AM on October 7, 2012


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