Tips for managing former peers

Dear Joan:
I was recently informed that I will be getting promoted at the start of the new year. I am very excited about my new responsibilities but I am also a little worried. I have been in my current position for three years and I feel I deserve my promotion –I know the area well, I’ve been the “back up” for a couple of my co-workers, and I’ve done special projects for my manager.
The problem I am worried about is my peers may resent my promotion. We are a pretty close group—we go out sometimes after work, we talk about our personal lives and we have even grumbled at times about our current manager. So, now I am going to be the manager!
A few of my coworkers are not all that motivated ( I only know that because I know they slack off sometimes, come in late or even surf the Internet on company time). They don’t do this a lot but I know it happens. They are all skilled and good at their jobs when they want to be, but I’m concerned that now that I will be their boss, they will know that I know all their secrets and they will shut me out or give me attitude.
Do you have any advice about how to get a good start in this job? I’m afraid that if I make some mistakes early on, it will be hard to recover. Thanks in advance.
Managing your peers can be a little tricky if you have been a close peer group. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you run the risk of being too soft, too hard—and you need to be just right.
Because you are friends outside of work, you are going to have to manage the shift in the relationship. Unfortunately, managers who continue to socialize with their former peers—especially a select few of their former peers—tend to run into problems down the road. Here are a few problems:
  • Former peers don’t think they have to follow the rules because the manager is “one of us” and will turn a blind eye. They may come in late, leave early, take longer breaks, miss deadlines…in other words they might take advantage of the friendship.
  • If the manager socializes with some employees but not all, the others will feel there is favoritism. If one of the “friends” gets a bigger raise, larger project, or promotion, it will automatically be viewed with cynicism. No matter what the reality is, the perception will be one of unfair advantage.
  • Former peers, who think they can garner favor, will tend to spend more time in the manager’s office, or increase the social interaction outside of work, in an attempt to maintain the advantage they may feel they have with the new manager. Meanwhile, others feel at a disadvantage.
  •  A former peer, who feels s he or she deserved the promotion more than you did, may attempt to sabotage your new role by reminding your former peers about negative comments you made, shortcuts you took, or rules you bent. 
  • If one of your peers resents your promotion, it can mean attitude problems. Sometimes the one who feels passed over acts out by being sullen or negative. If you were friends, it can become a dramatic melodrama, especially if the new manager attempts to cajole and cave in to the pouting.
To counteract some of the potential problems, here are some steps you can take to recalibrate your relationship: 
  •  Ask your current manager to meet with the team to make the announcement. Explain that you want the whole group to hear about your promotion at the same time. He or she can articulate your new role, what is expected from you and from the entire group, and set the stage for your new responsibilities and authority. If this isn’t clarified upfront by your manager, it puts a bigger burden on you—it’s better for someone else to spell out your authority, than for you to tell them.
  • Meet with your new team within a week or two of the announcement. Be modest, but don’t be apologetic. Tell them you are very proud to be leading such a group of talented people. Tell them you can’t run the department without their help and input and that you intend to meet with them as a group and individually, to maximize team results and also to find ways to develop them in their jobs. Also, tell them honestly that in your new role, it puts you in an awkward position, since you were peers. Ask them to help you by working through the transition together.
  • Meet with each person to discuss their goals and interests and to brainstorm ways to tap their interests and abilities, while contributing to team results.
  • If someone is demonstrating disappointment or resentment, give the person some time to come to terms with their own emotions. But if the situation worsens, have a heart-to-heart discussion. In a matter-of-fact, yet empathetic way, replay the behavior you are seeing and ask the person what is wrong. If they don’t reply, say, “I know we used to be friends but now I’m in a new role as your manager. For whatever reason you may not like that situation but that is the way it is. I hope you will come half way and give this new relationship a chance. I will do everything I can to help you on your job and in your career but I can’t if you continue down this path.”
  • If your former peers test your authority—coming in late, surfing the net—step in quickly but with a light touch. A good humored reminder, or private correction will send the right signal, without having to throw your weight around.

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,, or 
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