I'm looking for some advice on a tricky situation that has arisen in my company. I am the CEO of a very small software firm that is riding a strong growth surge.

Out of necessity, in past years we had a number of (primarily) technical employees reporting directly to me. In effect, most individual employees have been one-person departments, and this two-level structure worked OK when there were 6-7 people total in the company.

Now of course the management team is expanding and also the technical, sales and admin staffs are scaling up. Several of my former direct reports are not ready, willing or able to take on management roles and therefore I need to hand them off to a newly-formed layer of middle management. Secondly, they will also have new peers in similar roles whereas previously they were each unique within the organization.

At least one person is strongly resisting this, and has suddenly become disrespectful and unproductive with his new manager. (He was not a stellar performer as my direct, but certainly acceptable.) I was advised today by his manager that this employee has blatantly disregarded several critical deadlines and has been "goofing off" an inordinate amount. We also suspect his work hours are falling short.

Other than some correcting feedback ASAP, any advice on how to smoothly handle this type of transition? It is something I will need to deal with increasingly in coming months/years if the growth trend continues. Is it as simple as a psychological reaction to no longer reporting to a C-level exec or a more complex issue?

Any tips on dealing with these kinds of "growing pains" would be greatly appreciated!

kevdude's picture

My thoughts:

[list]+ Ensure your former directs document processes and knowledge asap - in case they decide to move on
+ Expect some resistance to change as your role, your company and management structure evolves
+ Gently, gently (where possible)[/list:u]You are not going to keep everyone happy all the time - that is just the way it is. They liked it the old way. But your business is growing, and along with it, your role. You have more to deal with - but it's all business.

Is the situation with the unhappy former direct really for you to deal with? Your new direct who now manages this individual should be the one to assist. The former direct needs to be given clear KPIs and expectations. If he is not delivering after being given chances, there needs to be consequences. Does he need to be given a verbal/written warning?

This former direct is clearly not happy but he needs to make a choice: get with the program or move on. I would also say your role will also need to be a bit more clear-cut and business-like. You are the big boss and that's the way it is.

I would suggest building some MT concepts (ie Management Trinity) in with your new directs. Also, the KPIs you expect of your management team should reflect your company mission/vision statements, and need to be directly related to [i]your[/i] KPIs. In the meantime you need to "distance" yourself from your former directs and encourage your new directs to foster a positive company culture and leave it with them, under your guidance.

These are my thoughts, I'm sure others have theirs too and could add a whole lot more.

Good luck - you'll get there and I think if you follow as much as possible the principals here in MT, over time you'll have a successful company where people will not only be cooperative and (mostly) happy, but they will be productive and will want to stay!

bflynn's picture

Use directness and honesty. You are not doing the employee a favor by allowing his behavior to continue.

Sure, you're giving feedback just like you would with any other employee. But this situation goes beyond the feedback model and goes straight to terminal coaching: His behavior cannot continue. The employee must make a decision to change or leave. You will be the judge of whether his change is sufficient to continue his employment.

Give him two weeks to make the turnaround and he has the rest of his career to maintain it.


bffranklin's picture
Training Badge

I agree with Kev that this is a great opportunity to coach your new middle manager on dealing with a difficult direct. I was just promoted above my peers in a similar situation. O3s in and of themselves have been tremendously helpful in smoothing the situation.

campbellcj's picture

Thanks a bunch for the tips!

I suppose I may be exacerbating the issue a bit by continuing to answer tech questions directly without his manager in the loop. I will try to curtail that, but I definitely have an 'open door policy' and don't want to overtly shun anyone needing potentially urgent help. (I didn't mention this person is in a customer service role and critically important.)

Apparently tensions are highest when I am not in the office, which is 50% or more of the time some months. That's one of the key reasons for limiting the number of directs reporting to me.