New manager must establish authority and new role with ex-peers

Dear Joan:

I have been promoted from within, and now I manage the art department. (I worked half a year with them before becoming their supervisor). I have been a new manager for the last year and a half, and I’m struggling. The guys I manage are my age and are “old dogs” in the department. I tell myself it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks. 

I believe they take advantage of my lack of experience. For example, two of them will have conversations with each other for twenty minutes at a time (across cubicles). As I approach, they’ll stop but not every time. (They have been moved and somehow ended up with cubicles near each other.) 

I’m starting small, making sure they all get to work on time, which is a challenge for them (all college educated, all near 30 years old). When they arrive late, they have to email me and copy the HR director. I’m getting frustrated with managing/babysitting these children. If I’m not there every second, I think they would misbehave. It’s one of those things, they’ll be whispering and such, and when I show up, it gets quiet. 

I thought of implementing a job progress/tracking/time computer program to see when they are or are not working. They would have to log in each time, which means they may forget.  

I’ve started asking them to email me their job progress reports every Wednesday, so at least they have to keep up with their jobs. 

I hold Friday meetings and have them tell me and coworkers everything they are working on, and their progress.  Is there anything else you can tell me to help? 

Answer:

Moving from peer to boss can be bumpy. In your case, you had only six months under your belt before you leap-frogged over your peers. I suspect you are correct in your guess that they are taking advantage of your inexperience. So, let’s take some steps to put you in charge. 

I agree that “babysitting” fits the behavior you describe, not managing. You have been chasing them and it has become a game you will never win. The more you check on them, make them report in, install productivity gizmos, the more they will scheme to out- maneuver you.  

“But how do I make it stop?” you ask. You stop chasing them. You set very clear expectations with each of them. You hold them to those expectations. You put teeth into your expectations by enforcing consequences. You have the power to do these things—are paid to do these things—but you are still acting like their peer by letting them push you and your standards around. In short, they are saying, “You can’t make us do anything we don’t want to do and good luck trying.” 

An example are the two employees you moved but they “somehow” ended up next to each other again. The “somehow” is that they flouted your authority and did just what they pleased, betting you wouldn’t stand up to their insubordinate shenanigans. 

Have you had enough? Are you ready to step up to your role as leader? If so, start by writing down a list of your expectations: come to work on time, get your work done without wasting long periods of time socializing, meet your deadlines, satisfy customers, etc.  

Meet with your manager and fill him or her in on what you are going to do and ask for support. You may also want to enlist the help of the HR Director.  

Next, you need to convey your new set of expectations to the biggest offenders. I am guessing that all of your employees don’t pull these stunts, so why subject them to a staff meeting to restate what they already adhere to? (Of course, if they are all guilty, a group meeting may be the way to go.)  

Meet with each one of the offenders and say, “In the past, you have had trouble coming in to the office and I’ve had you email me and HR when you arrived. I don’t want to do that anymore. You are an adult and I expect you to come in on time. In addition, I have been disappointed by your productivity. If I am not constantly checking on you, you miss deadlines and don’t complete your work. If you can’t do that we’ll have a conversation about why you aren’t able to come in to work on time or why your work isn’t satisfactory. If I find that I have to continue to check up on you, you will force me to start disciplinary action that could even lead up to and include termination. I hope you won’t force me to take that action. However, it has become serious and I feel I need to tell you this, so you know where you stand.” 

Expect to be tested because you will be. The hostility will likely move from passive aggressive to just plain angry. Be ready. If and when it happens you must act. Do so calmly but firmly and stick to what you say you will do. You may have a bumpy road for awhile because they will buck your authority. You may see some turnover, but in this case it’s called “planned turnover” and may be for the better. I suspect after the dust settles, the good employees will say, “Well, it’s about time.”


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) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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