I recently started a new job and have encountered a host of new (to me) staff and political challenges. I'm trying to work out if some of them are even surmountable, so any advice or comments from those with similar experiences would be very welcome.

In my previous role I was regarded as a very successful manager - I built and led a company division which was highly productive and had a great team spirit, with high employee satisfaction and near-zero unwanted attrition. It was a fabulous environment and I was extremely proud. I was told I was next in line for the top job, and people seemed genuinely upset when I left. All that blowing-of-my-own-trumpet being done, I would say that I'm anything but a natural. In fact I think I'm naturally below average. I just really applied myself to it, with a lot of help from MT.

Now I sometimes feel like I have, in Austin Powers' words, lost my mojo. Since I started my new role in a new company it's been uphill all the way. I have to build a new department inside of a larger organization and there are several major stumbling blocks.

The first issue is that I inherited a team nucleus of a couple of people - both good. However one of them, some time back, had more or less been promised my job. The company then decided that instead of being a small team this was going to be a larger division with its own P&L and hired me. This person is older and in many areas more experienced than I am, but it is also fairly easy to see why he was not considered suitable for my role - (in fact some of those reasons strike me as valuable coaching opportunities). However he was very disappointed by that assessment - which I believe was not even communicated clearly to him and seems to harbor a degree of resentment. At first I thought this was manageable, but now I'm not so sure what to do.

He has progressively become more difficult to deal with: less responsive, more negative and combative in his responses, terse by email, and has on a few occasions vocalized his discontent with the situation to me. Since we are a small team and he is friendly with the other team member, this does not make my job easy. In fact it makes me a worse manager, because frankly being in a new company, where I don't have a strong network of friends, and with some stressful high-pressure projects, I find I sometimes don't have the emotional resilience to want to spend the day being warm, open and cheery with people who I sense are unhappy at my very existence.

The crunch point between us is this: I have a clear idea of how I see the department being structured, and so does he (as a consequence of assuming he had the job). And they're not the same - his had approximately 90% of the department sitting under him. Mine is wider and flatter, for a multitude of reasons. I have had the difficult conversation where I've communicated this to him.

Now, my expectation is that he discusses this with others in the management hierarchy with whom he had his earlier understanding. And it's not completely clear that they will back me (even though I pre-sold my organization structure) rather than try to get me to change mine to appease him. The reason for that is partly what I regard as a bit of a general lack of regard for 'management' as a practice in the entire company - people roam all over the organization structure giving direction to anyone they choose. And I frequently find myself being told to do stuff, and how to do it, in a way that I haven't encountered since I was very junior staffer.

So I am wondering what happens if they come back to me with a request to reshape my team. To me that seems like it may be a badge-on-the-table moment. Am I being melodramatic? I think I just have difficulty with the ideas that i) I am not free to choose what most people agree is a clean and effective looking structure, and ii) that having communicated that I may have to retract it.

Singers's picture

Not a nice situation, however a few things I would focus on:

It's natural for anyone having not been successful for a job to be disappointed, however it's important to give the person a bit of space and time to get over it.

O'3, are you doing these at the moment? If not, if the guy was really close to be promoted, it must be possible to use his skills. Ask him for help! (dont pretend you know it all!) - If you ask him for help with delegation and he continue to refuse, give him feedback.

What I have seen is that new managers often want to show the world they can do it all, where they should be doing things the other way around ;)

Good luck and let us hear how it goes.

Kind Regards
Mads Sorensen
Disc 4536

rbohm's picture

Thanks - some great points there. Especially this one:

>What I have seen is that new managers often want to show the world they can do it all, where they should be doing things the other way around ;)

I definitely recognize this phenomenon (in myself, I mean). I find there can be quite a strong temptation to prove myself in terms of my individual contributor capability, probably due to feeling a) like I don't have a track record in this company, and b) like I have at least one team member thinking 'who is this guy?'. But that clearly cuts against me reinforcing the value of his contribution...Food for thought.

ChrisH__'s picture

I really don’t know if things will work out with the employee you are discussing.

Being denied a position you were promised, and then being made to report to someone with less experience and different ideas, is a horrible place to be in, and he is obviously not taking it well. I don’t see attempts to gradually develop a relationship or ‘win him over’ working.

Do you have the support of senior management to hire and fire?

Will senior management support you by not allowing him to approach them directly with problems, but telling him to go through you?

I would consider drawing a line and telling him that his obvious resentment and disappointment are understandable but unacceptable. These feelings are not helping anyone and are affecting the department. He has to make a choice. If he wants to stay on, he needs to get over it, and be a positive team player.

Explain to him some of the reasons why he didn’t get the position and tell them you will coach him on them so that he can move up in the company.

If he simply cannot accept this, try to get him a position in another department, otherwise fire him (and try to help him find a job elsewhere, if you can).

Trying to slowly turn this one guy around is not worth the negativity he can create in the team. I know that’s tough, but moving on might be the best thing for him as well.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

I don't have time to respond more fully, but I will in a day or two.


More soon.


Davis Staedtler's picture

So much to write, but I'll keep it simple. Wendii posted a great article from HBR which I think speaks right to you. Especially this part:

"Equally important, are you meeting your own expectations? How would you like to work to develop yourself? Are you good enough to achieve your own aspirations? Are you ready for increased responsibility?

These are critical questions all bosses must ask if they want to be fully effective."


ChrisH__'s picture

The perspective that shaped my comment was that i have been in the exact position that is being discussed here - being promised a position, started work on planning for the department's development, and then having someone else put in above me with different ideas.

Looking back, the thing that made the situation far worse, was that the senior management wouldn't fully commit to the new manager. Instead they tried to run a balancing act in keeping me happy by allowing me to keep bring my concerns and ideas directly to them. This undermined the new manager, and left the department staff unsure about the department's future.

In this sort of environment, i see little chance of a positive relationship growing between rbohm and his direct.

As long as the direct feels that there is still a chance of getting his ideas accepted by senior management, he will reject any actions from rbohm that he feels 'subjugate' him. Accepting o3s, feedback, coaching or any relationship building etc would mean admitted to himself that he is a direct, which he doesn't seem willing to do.

I'm interested in your thoughts on this....