Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I'm starting a new management position where I will be the boss. My new manager wants a clear-cut idea of how I will be walking in and starting off. According to my new boss, one of the people working there may have some resentment toward me--I am replacing a person who has been her boss, mentor, and friend for a number of years, and apparently she wanted my job.
My approach to the new situation is to feel out where she is coming from and how well she'll work with me. I will rely on her pretty heavily initially, and I would prefer a team effort--however, my boss wants to know in the next couple of days what exactly I will do to move this situation forward quickly and efficiently.
Well, first, I wouldn't come in assuming that's she going to be resentful. I'd give her the benefit of the doubt that she's going to act professionally. At the same time, however, it's good to be sensitive to the possibility that you will indeed encounter resentment from her and be clear in your own head--and aligned with your new boss--about how you'll handle it if that happens.
Regarding being clear on that: Resenting you for replacing someone she was close to or getting a job that she wanted isn't something you should coddle her on. She's expected to do her job professionally, respect the management structures in place (that's you), and not behave in ways that are detrimental to her performance, your ability to manage her effectively, or the general cohesiveness of the staff.
But I would start out handling her just like anyone else: Be friendly, get to know her, listen to her ideas and concerns, and assume she'll behave like an adult. If she doesn't, you'll want to address that with her immediately: Directly and firmly explain what your expectations are for her behavior, how she's falling short, and what needs to change. If you have to address it a second time, make it clear that her success in her job depends on her meeting the bar you've laid out. And mean what you say.
The fact that your new boss is asking you for a "plan" for this person before you've even started and encountered a problem makes me think that one or both of these is true: either a) this person is already a known problem, in which case you'll need to require her to change quickly or manage her out; or b) your new boss isn't committed to holding people accountable for their behavior and thus is fretting over this far more than he or she needs to, since handling a situation like this should be pretty straightforward, if you've got a management structure willing to back up their words with action. I'm hoping it's not b).
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