Hired to replace my former boss

Dear Joan:
To summarize the situation I have been hired to replace my former boss—who is now my subordinate.
I took a job recently as the Regional Director. My boss, who was the Regional Director, was, as stated by the owner, “a sales guy.”
The owner, knowing my boss had value to add as an individual contributor in a sales capacity, wanted to keep him by simply moving him down to a business development role. He now reports to me.
 I took over the Regional Director position and the main challenges faced were:
  • Changing the culture from the previous management
  • Dealing with influences that came from the previous manager/subordinate relationships
  • Gaining the respect of others
Any input would be appreciated.
On the surface, moving this person down into a sales role, looks like a good idea. The trouble is that the leader at the top of the organization may not have thought through the ramifications. It’s not as simple as moving people on a chess board.
While it’s understandable that the owner wanted to salvage this person and put him in a role that probably suited him better, there are some steps that could help this transition.
For starters,
  • He needs to let the former Regional Director save face with his colleagues.
  • Second, he needs to position you to make changes—without running into opposition from people who have allegiance to their former boss. 
  • Third, he needs to set clear expectations with your former boss about his new role…namely, to support you—not undermine you. And that takes a strong, mature person. It’s only human to snipe at his replacement, albeit subtly, since he was removed from his manager job.
  • You need to have a heart-to-heart with your former boss, to come to an agreement about how you will work together and your expectations about mutual support.
Let’s take these one at a time.
To save face, the owner could say, “Bob has done a great job positioning us to be more customer oriented in the region. And because he has such strong sales and customer relations skills, we both agreed that this is where the organization needs him most right now. He has graciously agreed to step into the Business Development role. This is critical to the growth of this business.”
If Bob was respected as a boss, his direct reports will appreciate how this is being announced, even if they don’t want to see him go. If Bob had all kinds of problems, and his people knew it and welcome this move, this will still make them respect how the transition is being made. The owner and organization get “points” either way and Bob gets to save his pride.
Chances are, if Bob was the classic “sales guy” he was well-liked because sales guys usually have great interpersonal skills. The problem is often that they don’t like managing others—holding his staff accountable, administrative details such as planning and budgeting. In other words, you are likely to be inheriting some wild ponies, who have been running loose on the pasture.
The owner needs to address the Regional team as a whole and let them know what he expects from you and the team. This will be awkward with Bob in the audience. He needs to address that reality by saying something like, “Bob—as you and I have talked about the future of this Region, I know you support the need for X, Y, and Z. Bob has helped me select the new Regional Director, and I know he gives him his full support.” At this point, Bob needs to chime in with his full support. It saves face for him, and tees you up as the new Regional Director everyone should listen to. It is the passing of the baton that says to his former employees—he’s the new boss now, so pledge your allegiance to him—not to me. He will look strong—like he helped orchestrate this. Not that it was done to him.
Then embark on a strategy to have highly inclusive and interactive staff meetings, and perhaps even an off-site retreat, where you can get everyone’s input on what is working well and what they want to change. Make it “their meeting” as much as possible. Empowerment and engagement wins the day.
Make sure you are giving the former Director his respectful due, asking his opinion, along with everyone else’s. But don’t let him dominate. Set up some ground rules, including “Equal Participation,” so you can gently remind him and others that you want to hear from everyone. If you continue to position yourself as a good listener, who values their ideas, they will begin to see you as a good leader. In addition, if you hold people to well-defined standards, which they helped to create, it will earn you the respect you need in if you are going to start changing the culture.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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