You do have a challenge ahead of you, but by understanding the dynamics, you can plan an entry strategy that will make it easier. When a well-loved manager leaves, employees may feel abandoned. They are suffering the loss of a leader, perhaps a friend, someone whose management style is familiar and whose expectations, standards and values are known.
Such employees will find it hard to accept the replacement. If the newcomer arrives soon after the predecessor’s departure, if no separation procedure took place and if the emotional costs are not well understood, everyone will have a hard time with the change. In a way, as the new person, you can never take the place of the favorite who came before. Intuitively, you wish that person never existed. However, you should honor that person while making yourself known and carving out your own niche.
Never disparage your predecessor’s accomplishments. Your new coworkers will be more loyal to the person who left than to you, and any undue criticism may brand you as the enemy. If, as a new manager, you are in a position to make changes and wish to do so, invoke the spirit of the respected predecessor. You might suggest that your program “builds” on the work done before and is probably what would have been done if he or she had continued.
On occasion, you can check the changes with the person who left and thereby receive his or her blessings. The changes you recommend can then bring credit to both of you, preparing your group for transition to your ways of thinking. Use accomplishments of the past as a standard, such as:
“The short time it took you to change the molds on the production line last summer under Smith set a new standard for all of us to meet.”
You also can ask, “How would Smith have done it?” Asking for information does not oblige you to do the job in the same way, but it does show that you respect Smith’s competence, as well as the group’s, and that you want to take full advantage of it. You can continue to invent, so that you are not controlled by the past and destined to repeat it, by asking, “Now what can we do to improve? Do we have different circumstances now that we must take into consideration?”
Most people you meet in the company will put their best foot forward. Tension and difficulties often are concealed or minimized. You will have to be alert to subtle cues of strained relationships, territorialism, cliques, power centers and the feelings people have about the person you are replacing.
How do you find out what you want to know? Ask questions. Pay attention to the way in which people talk about themselves and others. If you have the opportunity to see people interacting, watch how they treat each other. Here are some questions you may want to ask:
• Tell me about the person I am replacing.
• What was he best known for?
• What were some of the problems?
• How did she deal with them?
Engaging employees keeps them not only involved, but also committed to the team. Only then can they become real partners with you.