How to take over the job of the person you were hired to replace?
May 23, 2020 5:02 AM   Subscribe

About a year and a half ago, my company hired me to replace my co-worker, who was being promoted. I've excelled in my position, and before COVID-19 sent us all home, HR was recruiting for my replacement so I could be promoted as well. Now, in the new age of the perpetual hiring freeze, it's been decided that my co-worker and I are going to switch places: I'll take their current job and they'll go back to their original job, currently mine. Though I worked extremely hard to get this promotion, I feel apprehensive and a bit guilty that this is how it's gone down. What are some things I can do to help the transition go well?

I'm not very social or chatty on the job, so asking my co-worker or HR what the deal is or why/how this could happen would be weird... plus we're in law, so workplace politics are touchy even at the best of times. It just feels like a fairly unusual situation, and I'd like to handle it with as much grace and tact as possible. Thank you in advance for your advice!
posted by obstinate harpy to Work & Money (5 answers total)
It’s entirely possible that the person who was promoted hates their new job and wants to go back to the job they were actually good at. Some people aren’t cut out for management.
posted by rockindata at 5:46 AM on May 23, 2020 [14 favorites]

Are you looking for tips on dealing with the co-worker or for the transition in general?

For transition in general, my org recently did a restructure from top to bottom that had numerous people switching roles. Useful actions were:

-make sure you both refer/defer to your new roles as leadership intends, especially in the early days and for new inquiries. This kind of flipping between old/new roles can be hard to absorb for those who aren't truly aware of the switch/the nuances of the roles and may lead to confusion if you/they respond outside of the new roles. And then stick to this otherwise you'll still be dealing with items from your previous role 6 months from now.

-so have some language prepared along the lines of "referring you to NAME, they're taking that over and I'm moving on to new duties here."

-this also includes ensuring the needed supporting IT/chat channels/forms/schedules/client service staff are updated.

-transitional daily meetings/huddles to ensure smooth hand-off of projects and availability to answer questions. These are now being phased out.

-consistent messaging if asked or reach out to clients if needed. This may need to be in your own terms as leadership seldom sees the need for outsiders to be given details on internal matters. We informed leadership of Key Client A who deals with us regularly on a highly nuanced basis but they did not widely share that info within their own organization so we keep having to reroute inquiries. Key Client B interactions are not as nuanced so they weren't told anything, and seem to believe this is routine team transitions.
posted by beaning at 7:47 AM on May 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Rockindata is right. This decision might be a result of co-worker's under-performance, but it could also be a positive organizational response to co-worker's expressed disappointment with the work, the time demands, or even the team they found themselves working with. And yes, asking would definitely be awkward.

In your shoes, I think I'd try to project that this change is definitely NOT-weird. You see it as a corporate training strategy: expose promising personnel to various roles, giving them broader experience and a deeper knowledge base in order to expand their value and flexibility within the organization. Either of you could change roles again. Meanwhile, you hope you can rely on their most recent experience to help you learn, excel and grow in this new position.

Spinning your attitude this way can let co-worker save face and let you feel/behave more like a soldier in same foxhole than an enemy usurper. It shouldn't take long to learn where the truth lies. If you come off as a bit naive at first, so be it. Better to be thought an innocent than an opportunist.
posted by peakcomm at 9:04 AM on May 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Spend some effort subtly ego-boosting your demoted coworker. Gladmouth them around other people about things they do well other than the old position they have gone back to. Your relationship with them will be better if they pick up on the fact that you are not gloating and respect them.

If you find when you take over the new job that they have left some stuff undone or did it badly, cover their ass where it is not totally unreasonable, rather than tattling on them or blaming any delay on getting up to speed on their undone work. When requesting help or information from them during the transition make sure anything you say to them over Zoom implies that transition difficulties are due to your lack of experience and information and are temporary. You may not want to blame yourself in writing however, as admissions that you are struggling can later come back to bite you.

Keep in mind that you too may soon want to escape from the position they got out of. There may be things about the position that are problematic enough that you start to feel their presence as your subordinate is blocking your escape. However keep in mind that the issues are very likely to be structural, such as that your co-worker couldn't put in the necessary focus time during lock down.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:52 PM on May 23, 2020

Well you have nothing to feel any guilt about. Decisions were made in discussions between your coworker, their supervisor and HR. Nothing to do with you. They offered you the role and you said yes. The other side of the move is not related to you in any way. Your job from here is to make the transition as smooth as possible by being supportive in word and deed of your coworker and going into your new position with a positive attitude. Also by squashing any whispers about any of it with, “I know nothing about that.”
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:49 AM on May 24, 2020

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