new boss may face resentment from old employee

A reader writes:

I’m starting a new office management position where I will be “the boss.” My new boss wants a clear cut idea of how I will be walking in and starting off. According to my new boss, one of the people working there may have some resentment toward me — I am replacing a person who has been her boss, mentor and friend for a number of years. My replacing this person will probably have a negative impact on her. I will be taking the place of someone she cares about.

My approach to a new situation is to feel out where she is coming from and how well she’ll work with me. I will rely on her pretty heavily initially and I would prefer a team effort — however, my boss wants to know in the next couple of days what exactly I will do to move this situation forward quickly and efficiently.

Well, first of all, I wouldn’t come in assuming that’s she going to be resentful. I’d give her the benefit of the doubt that she’s going to act professionally. At the same time, however, it’s good to be sensitive to the possibility that you will indeed encounter resentment from her and be clear in your own head — and aligned with your new boss — about how you’ll handle it if that happens.

Regarding being clear on that: Resenting you for replacing someone she was close to isn’t something you should coddle her on. She’s expected to do her job professionally, respect the management structures in place (that’s you), and not behave in ways that are detrimental to her performance, your ability to manage her effectively, or the general cohesiveness of the staff.

But I would start out handling her just like anyone else: Be friendly, get to know her, listen to her ideas and concerns, and assume she’ll behave like an adult. If she doesn’t, I’d address it with her immediately — directly and firmly explain what your expectations are for her behavior, how she’s falling short, and what needs to change. If you have to address it a second time, make it clear that her success in her job depends on her meeting the bar you’ve laid out. And mean what you say.

The fact that your new boss is asking you for a “plan” for this person before you’ve even started and encountered a problem makes me think that one or both of these is true: either (a) this person is a known nightmare, in which case you’ll need to require her to change quickly or leave, or (b) your new boss isn’t committed to holding people accountable for their behavior and thus is fretting over this far more than he/she needs to, since handling a situation like this should be pretty straightforward, if you’ve got a management structure willing to back up their words with action. I’m hoping it’s not (b).

{ 2 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Thank you for the insights. Your approach to handling this situation is on target with my thoughts – that's a positive for me. Now, I have to get this "plan" across to my new boss. That includes the caveat that he be on board with the process. I believe I can bring him over to my desire to work with this person in a more subtle way initially. Thanks again –

  2. Frustrated Job Seeker*

    I have secured a position as an asst practice administrator and will be responsible for supervising reception staff. I have been advised that there are some existing issues with this team and I’ve witnessed these first hand when waiting to interview so I have a general idea of what I’m walking into. I found this article very helpful and plan to implement some of the suggestions for setting the tone early on.

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