How fortuitous. Now get out of my sandbox.
March 22, 2011 9:36 PM   Subscribe

My boss recently hired a former coworker for an open position in the department. This person will be working on many of the same tasks and projects as I am. He was both well-liked and skilled at the job when he left years ago, and I am afraid that he's going to come back and completely outshine me. How can I handle this situation professionally?

Back in the day, 10 years ago, my former colleague Mike and I worked in low level tech support jobs in the same group. We were in our early 20s, in a group of other young folks. (I am female.) Mike was slightly senior to me, and actually trained me on many of the tasks we did. After a year, he left the job in order to move to another city.

Since then, I've continued to work for the same boss, rising in the ranks and getting multiple promotions. Now I manage the development of the software that we used to support. I'm generally considered the expert in the group (there are 10 of us, various ages and experience levels and job grades, but all on the same level of the org chart). I am assigned to the highest-level projects. My boss consults with me on lots of things, including HR matters, and often says he would recommend me for his position when he retires in a few years.

So, a job opened up in the group, and Mike happened to apply for it. He's moving back to town with his family and happened to hear of the posting. It turns out that he's been doing software development all this time too, in a different market sector. We interviewed him, he dazzled the audience with a presentation on his software development process, and now he's being hired.

Mike is an awesome guy. He is a natural leader, he's smart, and has gained alot of insight and skill over the years. I think that's an asset to the company. But, it sets me up to get pushed aside, possibly. The rest of the group had a bit of stars in their eyes when we discussed who to offer the job to ( and some of these people never worked with him). They were excited to hire him to get our processes straightened out - many processes that either I developed, or that I've been saying are broken but no one wants to fix.

I feel like he's going to be the new wunderkind and I'll be yesterday's news. Worse, that he's being hired to do my job, or that I won't have my boss's ear anymore.

So, what do I do? I considered talking to my boss (who's very approachable), to let him know that I want to have a say in the direction of the group and the future of our software development efforts. But I feel threatened and I don't want to feel that way. What are some tips you would have for handling this situation? How can I support Mike as he comes back on board while also protecting myself and my position? Should I talk to my boss?

This is a sock puppet account, which is why there is no posting history.
posted by fanta_orange to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The playwright David Mammet wrote, "Worry is interest paid on a debt that never comes due."

Set all your worries aside then address the actual issues as they actually arise. If there are any.
posted by trinity8-director at 9:46 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: lol, you don't tell your boss you're jealous of the new guy and then start making demands, that's the opposite of professional.

Despite frequent portrayals to the contrary, it is possible for someone to achieve success in the corporate world without stepping over the corpses of their colleagues.

Here's what you do, if this guy is half as good as the others think and you're afraid of: Bloody start working with him on stretch projects, and hope some of the spackle rubs off. It will not only offer you an opportunity to learn from somebody who probably has some skills and experience (working in a different environment to you) that you could use, but will also make you into a dynamic duo that people look to to get things done. If he's gonna be fabulous, make sure you're fabulous, too.

I realise that a lot of corporate life tends to pitting individuals against each other, but working together is almost always more advantageous.
posted by smoke at 9:47 PM on March 22, 2011 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Probably the worst thing you could do would be to let these feelings show, because while they're very understandable from an abstract, rational point of view, they might wind up being labeled fearful, jealous, territorial, or grasping, which in relation to someone the team likes would damage your prospects more effectively than Mike ever could on his own.

My guess is the best way through this is to be as big about it as you possibly can. The more things you give to Mike, the more opportunities you have to open up new things for yourself. The more you praise and encourage Mike, the more he'll want to do things you suggest--showing you to be the real leader. The challenge here isn't really Mike, but staying ahead of the game so that you can give more.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:50 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The best thing that can happen to you professionally is to be work with competent, personable and professional co-workers. I'd be stoked that you were getting such a great asset to your program.
posted by fshgrl at 10:11 PM on March 22, 2011

Best answer: Work with Mike, not against him. You are sure to have learned things that he hasn't and vice versa. Together, you will be more than the sum of your parts.

Also, his software development process will probably not be more awesome than yours in every respect; it takes more than one worker to transplant a team culture. Go for a synthesis.
posted by flabdablet at 10:40 PM on March 22, 2011

Best answer: I wouldn't say this for most jobs, but since you say you're in software development: find a new job. If you've been at the same job for ten years, the amount you're actually learning day-to-day has slowed to a crawl, and the majority of it is boring stuff about how the company is and not about what it could be. Half the reason Mike looks sexy is because he's been outside the company, learning new and different things that nobody at your company knows about, right? If you find a new job, suddenly you'll be the one coming into a company with new experiences and ideas and looking good.

If you can't or won't find a new job, then my advice is to pretend *this* is your new job. When you come into a new job, you have to spend a bunch of extra time working to get caught up on things. Well, you already know how the existing processes work, so you don't need to get caught up on them. But probably you could stand to get caught up on your general software-development skills, so spend some time doing that: learn a new language or framework, do some open-source projects in your off-hours, whatever. Similarly, quit whining to your boss about processes being broken: do the work to fix things yourself (and if you have to get buy-in from other people to do it, fine, but do the work first, and do it in a way that minimizes the effort from other people it'll take to get the changes made).

On preview I see most people are saying to be friends with Mike and hope for the best. That is a totally admirable attitude, and it is the best way to ensure you keep your job. It is also the best way to ensure Mike gets your boss's job. If that is something you are serious about wanting, you should assume that as of right now, your current time and seniority are worthless for achieving it, and start working from scratch to make sure you're the best person for that job.

But, seriously, look for another job, it'll be easier.
posted by inkyz at 10:56 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You talk to your boss about management issues? You're the lead? Talk to her/him about how best to use the talents of this amazing star. How can you harness the new energy and starry-eyed coworkers to make changes that everyone agrees needs to happen? I know you're not technically HIS manager, but with luck, over your lifetime you'll manage a lot of people who are more brilliant than you, so use this time to develop some wisdom about how to do that. Nthing be as big as you can be. Also, be yourself. This isn't as zero-sum as it's easy to believe, and people's uniquenesses are what allows more than one person to be a star (an anchor, the essential catalyst) at the same time.
posted by salvia at 11:31 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Can you talk to your boss about making your informal position as "the expert in the group" into a formal position, such as team lead? Being at the same org-chart level as others, when in actuality you have more responsibility, can be precarious for many reasons, including the arrival of a potential shining star. It's not an issue of making sure Mike can't outshine you; it's an issue of clarifying your position within the organization.
posted by neushoorn at 2:41 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Everyone is starry-eyed now but things change when the possible becomes the actual. Mike is kind of at a disadvantage precisely because he has experience at your org. Unfortunately that experience was from ten years ago, so if he comes in with presumptions he'll quickly start putting people's backs up. However, if he's smart he'll sit back and see what's afoot. You can offer friendly expertise on how things are and the thoughts you have on how they might be improved, and you'll lend credibility to eachother's ideas in the eyes of everyone else.

However I suspect the issue is that you've got comfortable at your job and don't want to suddenly have to compete/change. This is a very human reaction, and I think all the comments about sucking it up, whilst fair enough, are also not addressing your basic fear of being replaceable. There's not much can be done about that beyond coming to terms with your insecurities (we all have them) - you kind of have to address that on your own, bosses and other colleagues are not good sources for validation, and nobody's upward trajectory is guaranteed.

So continue to do your job. Smile and do the best you can and let the dust settle. It might be that Mike cannot live up to the hype, but if he does it might be worth looking for other opportunities, in or outside your org. As inkyz says, you can be someone else's star.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:38 AM on March 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Great answers, thanks everyone.

A few points:

lol, you don't tell your boss you're jealous of the new guy and then start making demands, that's the opposite of professional.

Well, no, I wasn't going to do that. I think I do need to talk to him in some capacity though. I like salvia's approach.

find a new job

Yea, I am working on that, since before this whole Mike thing even started. I am sure that some of my frustration and fears are because I am already somewhat unhappy here.

Everyone is starry-eyed now but things change when the possible becomes the actual.

Funny, I even said that in the hiring meeting. My coworkers don't seem to recall the last time someone came in and tried to change things (in short, it was disastrous, and that guy left in shame).
posted by fanta_orange at 7:15 AM on March 23, 2011

Back in my consulting days, I did a lot of turnaround/process redesign projects. Including redesign projects that seem similar to yours - rework of process with existing staff.

On every engagement there are people who actively resist change. Going into the project, the someone would give a me a list of the people who where going to resistant. They'd ask how I was going to deal with "Negative Nellie". The truth is, we don't usually start with the most resistant person. It's easier to start change with the willing - even if there's only a few. Start small and target an initiative with immediate benefit. Take that positive momentum to tackle the next thing.

Over time, people self-select into segments: the innovators, the cautious, yet willing to listen. Some people get a rep for being "stuck in a rut" and needlessly resistant.

You don't seem to think Mike's ideas are bad. They just aren't your ideas and they'll make your processes obsolete. How do you think resisting / complaining / undermining would impact your reputation? People often think that they're being really Machiavellian and covert. Even in a multinational, companies are very small communities. People see the moves and motivations. If Mike proposes a bad idea, then by all means object or help refine it.

Mike has a lot of advantages: history, trust, charm, leadership, presentation skills, external experience and credibility. If he's going to be a star - and he's got tons of advantages which may facilitate that - then your life is going to be easier if you align your work with his.

Welcome Mike. Take him to lunch. Help him access documentation if he needs it. Introduce him to people. Hitch your wagon to a star. His isn't going to push you out of the way if you're part of the team making successful changes.
posted by 26.2 at 8:07 AM on March 23, 2011

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