New managers may find themselves in the awkward, and sometimes difficult, position of being responsible for leading their former peers. Where before it was nothing special to share lunch, socialize, trade opinions or even grouse, the new manager becomes a different part of the social fabric.
A new manager gains important responsibility for getting the work done and for maintaining the cohesion of her team. She is put in the position of making judgments about the team and individual members that may be controversial or unpopular. She now has greater control over assignments, recognition and rewards as well as at least influence over salaries and promotions. That newly granted power has both its own rewards and its hazards.
The critical factor the new manager has to keep in mind is fairness. Important decisions about projects, bonuses or special opportunities often have the potential to signal that someone is a winner and someone else isn’t. Weighing the messages sent by a decision need to be weighed as much as the decision itself.
In addition to wanting fair, even-handed treatment, employees want to feel they have fair, equal access to a manager’s attention, and equal influence on the manager. A team notices who gets the new manager’s time, and how much of it. Team members may feel that someone else has greater privileges or gets special consideration. Our new manager has to be vigilant about how whether employees feel they can get the access they’d like with her.
Another potential factor to bear in mind is jealously. Someone on the team may believe and feel strongly they were just as qualified and capable, if not more so, than the person who got a promotion. A new manager has to be sensitive to anypossible resentment or hurt feelings about her new role. She will need to recognize that she may have an extra burden in proving himself to someone who felt her job should be theirs. And, of course, she may need to prove her worth to every directreport.
So, what can a new manager, recently promoted over her peers, do in order to maintain cohesion and avoid some of the pitfalls of jealousy or a sense of unfairness?
- Take Stock
What kind of relationship do you have with each team member? Who are the direct reports that you connect well with? Why is that? Which people are cordial but maybe a bit less close to you? What has led to that different connection? Finally, who is least connected to you? What’s behind that?
- Decide on Relationship Changes
Once you have created your map of team relationships, the next step is to decide what may need to change. Are there any people who might be a little too close and friendly? Would those relationships possibly get in the way of decisions you need to make about them or actions you might take? How could you signal that a little more separation is the right thing for the good of the team? Likewise, which team members do you need to connect better with? You are not after building new friendships. You are after a degree of mutual knowledge and understanding that will help you communicate well with everyone and effectively work together.
- Talk with Everyone Individually
In all cases, a helpful next step can be individual conversation. People will naturally be curious about how you intend to fill your new role. You can take the initiative to let them know how you would like to work together and invite them to explain their wishes and preferences. Those conversations would be the start of a new or altered relationship. They also set the stage for future conversations about other important things.
When it comes to relationships that are already friendly, it’s not unusual for some people to feel some sense of disappointment or loss. If you need to dial back how often you spend time together, or to change how you spend your time, they may be a bit upset. It’s difficult to give up a good past connection, or to feel it’s now more distant. At the same time, an effective leader needs to maintain enough objectivity and impartiality to act when they must, even if someone won’t be satisfied with the result. Maintaining an appropriate personal distance is not easy, but it’s important.
- Prepare Yourself to Handle Difficult Situations
An additional consideration is dealing with difficult decisions about friends. You must be objective as a manager, both for the employee’s benefit and for the rest of the team. For instance, it may feel awkward to reprimand someone you’ve shared things with. At the same time, you cannot afford to treat them differently from any other employee.
Effectively dealing with the situation requires communicating the issue clearly and factually, as well as explaining the consequences. It involves listening to and responding appropriately to the other person’s reactions, whether accepting, questioning or downright hostile. And it means remaining clear and direct about each person’s roles and responsibilities. Finally, addressing issues with a friend requires you to stand firm in spite of any of their objections…or you own misgivings. Fairness to the entire team is the bottom line.
- Seek out a Sounding Board
Another manager or a friend outside of the team can be a valuable resource. You can ask the other person what she thinks of your plan as you move into the role, or in dealing with difficult situations. She can help you think about the advantages and disadvantages of your ideas. She might point out consequences you haven’t considered. She also could provide a valuable perspective about what’s most likely to happen. That’s particularly beneficial if you fear the worst. In the final analysis, though, you will need to take a deep breath and act.
The bottom line is that taking on management responsibilities can be the start of an important shift in your work relationships. With thought and deliberate action, that transition can be easier. The core question is how you establish the right degree of fairness to the team and access to you. Good luck!