Q: I was promoted in January after 2 years and now have my first team. One team member has been with the company for 6 years and seems very unhappy about my promotion. How can I overcome the resulting tension? I don’t want to lose someone so soon.
When you are first promoted, your working life suddenly contains two distinct areas – The Work and The People. Some organisations prepare their employees well for this big adjustment; others not so much. Do not underestimate the care that must be taken around people management; at the same time, do not let this one person make you think that you are failing.
Stop trying to guess exactly what this person is thinking. Firstly, that’s exhausting; secondly, you are probably guessing something far worse, far tougher on yourself, than is actually the case. You may not be the cause of her perceived frustration – you may simply be the closest target in range.
Mention that you sense a resistance in relation to your new working relationship, and encourage her to speak about it. Speak only of your observations. Avoid defensiveness, in tone or body language. Say little; listen. Seek clarification of the core issue – the problem that, if solved, would make everything else seem OK. Right now, she herself may not even know what this is.
Resist solo speed-solutioning. Take away key points for deeper consideration, as this is a real learning opportunity.
Who is coaching you during the settling-in period for your new role? Go through everything with a manager whose approach to people management you trust and respect – this advance knowledge will also make later escalation smoother, should the resistance you’re experiencing continue.
DON’T TRY TO PERFORM MIRACLES
Maybe you simply have someone in your team who shouldn’t be there.
For example, the core issue you identified may simply be unsolvable. Maybe her own ‘natural term’ for staying in one place is nearing its end. Also, people often fall into certain roles more so than choosing them. We make key career decisions between the ages of 18 and 23, despite having no real knowledge of the working world or our options. Some recognise this and make brave new career decisions later; others stay put and spread their unhappiness, waiting for the organisation to change to suit them.
Retaining negative employees is no badge of honour. The important thing is to manage this situation to its “correct conclusion”, whatever that might be. Such a conclusion, resulting from open and fair conversations over a period of time, should never reflect badly on you.
SET NEW STANDARDS.
Some people are negative because they were never challenged on it. They may be unaware of how their words and actions land with others, and very open to change. Others are very aware and enjoy a sense of power from making their manager squirm!
Don’t move on easily from throwaway negative statements – ask “Why do you think that?”, or “Always? Really? Tell me more.” Deflate the balloon of drama, and set new standards around what is acceptable within your team.
IGNORE THE ILLOGICAL
Yes, some people believe that promotion should relate primarily to length of service. Yes, some people think that promotions are bestowed with a magic wand that mysteriously downloads years of managerial theory and practice into one’s brain. And yes, some enjoy making a person jump through a few practical or psychological hoops after a promotion.
But promotion is based on skill and potential, there is no magic wand, and the hoops are yours to ignore (or circumnavigate). The worst trap of all is to let this distract you from your role.
Above all, in any such situation, quickly draw a distinct line between assumption and fact. Ask. Talk. Meet in the middle. Most issues in life can be resolved this way.
Congratulations on the promotion, and good luck!
This Q&A was first published in Irish Tatler magazines.
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