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(Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)
(Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)

Nine To Five

I used to be part of the team – now I’m the boss Add to ...

THE QUESTION

I have just been hired to replace my boss, who is retiring. I know all of my former co-workers’ (now employees’) poor work habits. One person in particular needs to be told to shape up. How do I address this situation without killing morale in the office?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Bill Howatt

Howatt HR Consulting, Kentville, N.S.

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It appears you have an end in mind as to what you want to accomplish. However, being a new manager can often be akin to playing a game of chess. As you have suggested, one mindless move may be costly. For example, losing employees’ trust can have a negative impact on morale.

Being a peer who has been promoted to be the group’s manager can be challenging, especially when clear boundaries are not set out. Your team knew you first as a peer, and now they need to learn to accept your management approach to be able to work to their full potential. So your question is simple but wise.

Perhaps one way to address this issue is to engage your new team in a conversation with the goal of recalibrating performance standards, culture and roles. Having a planning meeting that maps the direction the team will go in the coming months can help ensure there is clarity with respect to expectations, transparency and accountability.

One first step is to get buy-in on where the team is now and where it is going. In this conversation, be clear about how you evaluate and measure success, as well as your management style. This will take a bit of planning and time. However, it will set the parameters for action if an employee does not self-correct unacceptable behaviour.

There is a good chance this employee has had poor work habits before you took over, so it is good to see that you want to be accountable to your organization and address ineffective behaviour. However, timing is beneficial when you are transitioning into a new leadership role. If the team is not clear where you are coming from, and why you are doing what you are doing, they may default to believing that you are some kind of Machiavellian leader.

The good news is that most employees want their managers to hold underperformers accountable. Many become frustrated when they see two sets of rules. Taking the above approach might help mitigate your morale risk. It also might help you get the respect and trust of your team.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Zuleika Sgro

Human resources partner, talent manager, Questrade.com, Toronto

Congratulations on your new position. Your concern is very common in the workplace – this sense of, I was a “peer,” now I’m their “boss.” My advice is to be authentic in all your actions, and make decisions for the best of the team and the company. Acting with integrity and leading by example will help align those who are on board for the right reasons and separate those who may not be as committed or focused on the role.

You should plan your entry into the position with a rebranding or reiteration of team values and expectations, as well as ensure you meet with each team member one-on-one to get their feedback about what works well and what opportunities there are for improvement.

It’s important to involve your team and obtain their buy-in to any changes or goals you want to put forth. At first the transition will be a bit delicate, but you were promoted for a reason and I encourage you to keep doing what you are doing and lead the team by your examples.

Also, speak to other leaders in the company who may have faced the same challenge and get their advice about what worked and didn’t work for them.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine to Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com .

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