Making the move from peer to boss

By Megan Alexander

In today's economy, many businesses are reorganising, with middle management often one of the first areas to face cutbacks. But just because a management position has been made redundant, it doesn't mean work disappears.

Companies frequently fill part of the gap by promoting employees a little further down to supervisory roles - not quite at the former boss's level, but no longer at the same level as their workmates. Suddenly those people find themselves supervising colleagues they once stood beside.

If you are one of these newly promoted employees, congratulations. This can be an exciting time, but it is also a time of shifting dynamics, especially concerning colleagues who will now be reporting to you.

To be successful in your new leadership role, you need to build positive working relationships with those who report to you and still be able to exercise authority when necessary. It can be tricky. But if you follow these steps, you will make the switch from peer to manager as smoothly as possible:

Concentrate on your interpersonal skills. When you're an employee on the shop floor, your technical skills are most important - after all, it's your job to actually produce your employer's product or service. But once you get promoted to supervising others, you need to develop another vital skill - the ability to motivate those who report to you to be productive.

After all, that's your job now - to ensure those who report to you do the best job possible. It takes real skill with people to make that happen - if leadership is new to you, you might like to ask your boss if you can go on some courses to brush up your interpersonal skills so you can be an effective supervisor.

Don't let your ego take over. Being promoted is a validation - it means your employer sees you as good at your job, valuable to the organisation and someone with the ability to lead. But promotion doesn't actually make you a better person than your colleagues. Continue to treat those you are supervising with respect - if some were previously technically better than you, they're still better than you. You may have been a friend to some, now you have to win their respect as a supervisor, and you'll only do that by respecting them in their roles.

Meet your team. It's best to get the change in dynamics out in the open, to talk about them with each member of the team so everyone is clear about what's changed, where they stand and what that means. Arrange one-on-one conversations with each person who reports to you, to make sure everyone understands:

* His or her role in the department, including exact responsibilities. Along with the change in your responsibilities, job losses higher up are likely to have led to changes in everyone's roles. Make sure you and your team members are clear about exactly what their roles now encompass.

* What your expectations are and how they may differ from a previous manager's. For example, you may ask more junior employees to be more proactive and take on additional responsibilities. Or you may request an experienced member of your team to begin taking on some of the work you did before your promotion.

* How you and those you report to will measure accountability.

These meetings also will allow you to better understand your team members' personal and professional goals, and what you can do to help them reach their objectives.

At this stage, you may need to spend extra time with colleagues you were particularly friendly with, to ensure you are all clear about the new dynamics. You may well be able to maintain your friendship outside work, but inside the workplace, you don't want to be seen to be playing favourites (see below).

In addition, give all those you are now supervising a chance to voice any questions or concerns.

Set boundaries. Understanding the everyday responsibilities of your new position is the easy part; the subtleties of your role are often harder to gauge. For example, is it appropriate for you to go out with the team after work? Are you allowed to joke with colleagues as you have done in the past? What subjects are now off limits? Although there are no standard answers to questions such as these, one thing is clear: You'll need to set new boundaries as a supervisor. For instance, in your previous role, you may have confided in co-workers when you were frustrated with management decisions. But now that you are a member of the management team, you must set the example. This means using discretion and offering support and guidance, not complaints, however harmless they may seem.

Don't play favourites. You may be closer friends with some co-workers than others, but as everyone's boss, you must treat each staff member with the same respect and concern. Giving choice assignments to certain individuals, for instance, hints at favouritism.

More important, paying special attention to a select few could cause you to overlook other talented team members. Also, your responsibility as a manager is to ensure every employee is a productive contributor to the organisation, so delegate projects fairly and ensure each person's workload is reasonable.

Be firm when necessary. Despite your best efforts, some employees may test your authority by ignoring directives, missing deadlines or being perpetually late to work or for meetings. Make sure you are firm but fair when handling these situations.

Each person on your team should already be aware of your expectations, and you must address and document performance issues. It may be tempting to relax the rules, especially for people you've worked with for many years, but doing so will only encourage the type of behaviour that is causing difficulties.

Seek guidance. No matter how challenging your job as a supervisor may seem, you are not the first person to face these issues. In fact, there are likely many individuals within your firm who have also had to navigate new relationships with co-workers after moving into management roles. Speak to them about how they overcame any obstacles and what strategies they found particularly useful.

And don't limit your search for advice to those in your organisation - it's likely others in your social circle have already made this transition.

Being promoted into your first supervisory role is a milestone in your career - one that you should celebrate and be proud of. By ensuring you pay attention to the changes this means for your behaviour at work, and concentrating on getting the balance right, you will increase the chances this is just the first promotion of several.

Megan Alexander, general manager, Robert Half New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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