Monday, January 23, 2017

Earning Respect as a New Manager

I was recently asked to advise a new manager who was having trouble getting respect from her new team. She is now managing the group she used to be a member of, as many first time managers are. From the start, she could feel the resentment from some of her new staff that she was promoted. They would show up late to her meetings and sometimes not show up at all. One of her staff dismissed her in a group meeting, "Your idea for this project isn't important. You've never worked in this area before." Wow!

A lot of new managers struggle with this transition, particularly when they come from the group they are assigned to manage. This can be even worse when the new manager is younger than some of their new staff, which is also the case here. Fortunately, it is not too difficult a problem to deal with. I'm a bit disappointed that she didn't get more support and coaching from her own manager.

The first key to solving this problem is an attitude change ... on the part of the new manager. While respect is important, it is not respect for authority that is at issue here. Everyone should expect basic respect independent of role, rank or authority. A new manager needs to have the attitude that their job is just a role on the team like everyone else on the team. Authority comes into play at times, but largely, managers have a role on the team to coordinate work, administer various company processes and to support their team members doing their roles. Occasionally, that means holding team members accountable sometimes by exerting authority.

I coach new managers to review each member of their new staff with an eye to understanding who might have issues with the change. We sit down and review their analysis together, and make a plan of action before we announce the new role. But, it is never too late for this analysis or to make a plan to fix respect issues that you didn't catch early.

For each such person, schedule a one-on-one meeting and address the issue head-on using the standard "When you"/Result/"I need" pattern, "When you show up late to our team meetings, the whole team is less effective. I need you to come on time in the future." For some that will be all you need to do. You may get a half-hearted agreement and perhaps even an eye roll. If you do, that's fine, it's part of the process.

The next step is to bring the disrespect into the open, "Do I understand correctly that you are unhappy with me as your manager?" After either "yes" or "no" explain your role with a little bit of an appeal to authority, "Our manager gave me the role of ... I play that role to help you and the whole team be effective. You have the role of ... I need you to respect my role on this team in the same way you need me to respect your role." Keep this emotionally neutral. You are not angry, you are fixing a problem.

The next part is key, a challenge with some commitment to change, "Can we work together respectfully, or do we need to deal with this issue in another way?" In many cases this will be enough. You may need to reinforce the agreement to make it stick. Next time they act disrespectfully, call them into your office as soon as possible, "That was not how we agreed you would behave. Will we continue to have a problem?"

In most cases, this will solve the problem enough for the new manager to build new cultural norms. If the problem persists with a particularly difficult person, escalate fast to put them on a plan and help them move on. If the team sees that you will tolerate the problem, all hope is lost, and your manager will be putting you on a plan. When you let these problems fester, your team will be ineffective. I need you to fix the problem for your team. That's your role.

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