A reader writes:
I have been offered the supervisory job at work by the “big bosses,” who are planning on firing my immediate supervisor. She does not know she is going to be fired, and my accepting the position actually makes it possible for them to fire her (it’s not a job that can be vacant for any length of time). I’m excited about the new job and I’m sure I can do a great things with it, but I’m troubled by the awkwardness of the situation.
I don’t have any misgivings that she needs to leave the job; she has been stagnant in it for a long while and the position needs new energy. Mostly I am wondering what the best way to handle the transition would be. Should I take vacation during her final days on the job and then step into the new role upon my return? Should I transfer out and then transfer back in when I take over? How is this typically handled?
I think they are going to offer her a demotion, essentially, in another department if she wants to stay. I’m guessing she will just leave directly though. There’s no plan for a period of transition time.
This will be my first managerial role and I am one of the least senior employees (though not the least experienced), so that may engender some skepticism from the current staff. I would like this transition to go as smoothly as possible so I can get to work right away. I have lots of ideas about how to engage everyone as members of a new, energetic team, so I’m ready to get started, I’m just not sure about the immediate future after my supervisor is given her notice.
First, talk to the person who will be your new boss in your new role. The two of you should be talking all of this stuff through; you definitely shouldn’t feel like you’re supposed to handle this all on your own, especially as a new manager. You need that person to tell you things like: What’s the messaging going to be around the firing of your current manager? When do they plan to announce your promotion? You need to know if it’s going to be the same day your current boss is moved out, a week later, or what, so that you’re all on the same page about messaging and so that you know what to expect. And if she does accept the demotion rather than leaving, what will they want that transition to look like, as far as it impacts you and your new staff?
Beyond that, I’d say to be prepared for there to be some awkwardness — both around the sudden firing of your manager and around your promotion to managing peers (which can be awkward at first under the best of circumstances). And of course, if your manager does take the demotion and stay on, there will almost certainly be some awkwardness in your relationship with her.
The best way for you to deal with that is for you to be calm, open, and reasonably forward-looking … but not so forward-looking that you appear to be brushing off people’s real questions and concerns. Also, don’t criticize the old manager to your staff (even if you’re 100% right, it will make you look smaller), and don’t rush too quickly into making dramatic changes; you want to move pretty carefully and deliberately, which is always the case when you’re taking over a team, and is triply the case when you’re new at managing.
Last, I wouldn’t take vacation during your current manager’s final days; if anything, that risks you looking like you’re hiding from the awkwardness or doing something shady, which is not a good way to inspire confidence from your new team.