Does it HAVE to be Us vs. Them?

I was poking around on an HR message board the other day and happened upon a discussion regarding a recently promoted manager who is ‘struggling’ in her new role.  It appears this new manager continues to experience difficulties after moving from being a peer to being the leader of her work group.  A fairly common scenario.

In her explanation the HR lady posting about the situation stated: “…we believe she needs to come over to our side.’

Implied in all of this, and based on some details the HR lady had supplied, was the fact that the new manager continued to maintain friendly relationships with her team members and worked to solve their problems and frustrations.  She had, as her staff members knew, walked in their shoes.  She got it so therefore they trusted her.

The Powers That Be, however, have decided that this manager must make a 180-degree switch and disentangle herself from personal friendships/relationships. They believe she needs to join the pod people other managers and become one of ‘us’ because, naturally, she is no longer one of ‘them.'”

But is that really the answer?  Surely there are ways that a newly promoted manager, coming from within the ranks of the company, can successfully transition to being a leader without turning into a soulless robotic drone?  Well yes, there are.  The new manager can:

  • Understand that relationships will (and must) evolve.  The newly promoted manager has the opportunity to establish a NEW style of interacting with employees.  While she cannot forget a shared history of confidences and (perhaps) communal misery, it’s critical she begin her era with a different focus.  This includes having discussions with former peers about performance and career aspirations with the goal of establishing a different level of rapport.  Jokes, fun, shared lunches and camaraderie is great but developing work focused relationships with subordinates is also necessary to enable any future performance-related discussions.
  • Listen. Think.  Then listen again.   The new manager needs to determine how best to keep her ear to the ground, tune in to the organizational happenings and sort the wheat from the chaff.  She needs to realize she doesn’t know all the answers and can no longer jump to the same conclusions and rally the troops around those conclusions as she may have done when in her previous role.  No longer Norma Rae but not quite the crusty Plant Manager either.
  • Realize that what got him here won’t get him there.  Upon being recognized for competence, performance or potential the newly promoted manager may believe he’s demonstrated his specialness – and been suitably rewarded. But it’s critical that he seek out opportunities to participate in leadership training because sometimes organizations set people up to fail.  Scratch that – quite OFTEN organizations set people up to fail.  Newly promoted managers are often expected to learn their job by trial and error and sadly managers promoted from within are often given less direction than external hires.  It’s assumed, after all, they ‘know’ what needs to be done and it’s certainly assumed they understand the organization’s culture, norms and values.  In order to eliminate the risk of not understanding his new role though, the new manager needs to take the initiative to seek out opportunities for learning and development.
  • Develop a Personal Style.  Every new manager has the ability to blend her unique personality with her authentic self and add in a dash of the attributes she most admired from previous leaders.   Empathetic?  Coaching?  Authoritarian?  Could be any of the above – but it needs to be real.  

Being promoted at work to a leadership position over former peers can be challenging and organizations need to provide appropriate support to employees who have made this transition.

Gladiatorial combat in the organization is not the answer.  Please – I implore you – eliminate us vs. them.

 

Photo credit iStockphoto

 

With 25 years of HR Management experience, Robin Schooling, SPHR, has worked in a variety of industries. In 2013, after serving as VPHR with a Louisiana based organization, she left corporate HR to open up Silver Zebras, LLC, an HR Consulting firm.  She blogs at HRSchoolhouse and you can follow her on twitter at @RobinSchooling where, on football weekends, you can read all her #whodat tweets.

About the Author

Robin Schooling

With 25 years of HR Management experience, Robin Schooling, SPHR, has worked in a variety of industries. In 2013, after serving as VPHR with a Louisiana based organization, she left corporate HR to open up Silver Zebras, LLC, an HR Consulting firm. She blogs at HRSchoolhouse and you can follow her on twitter at @RobinSchooling where, on football weekends, you can read all her #whodat tweets.

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