One of the hardest transitions in my career came when I was promoted to manage the team that I was a part of. It happened after a major corporate acquisition prompted my boss at the time to take an early retirement offer. Friday I was part of the team, and Monday I was the manager. It was one of the most challenging and harrowing experiences of my career.
Years later, an HR exec told me it was probably the most difficult transition anyone could face in terms of promotions. “I hope you got lots of support,” she said.
Hm. Yeah, there was no support.
But you can be much better prepared than I was. There are clear actions you can take—actions that no one told me about at the time—that can make this transition smoother for yourself and your team. Keep these steps in mind, and you’ll make the process much more productive and satisfying for everyone involved.
1. Recognize What a Huge Change This Is
If you’re in a good organization, you’ll get lots of support and mentoring from your leadership team. But even if you have great support, to be successful, you must recognize what a huge impact this promotion will have on your relationships with your team—your former peers.
You’ll need to mentally reframe how you see your role within the group, because overnight, the dynamics will shift drastically. You have to go from being a peer to being the manager. Although it’s exciting, also remember you have a lot of work to do to establish yourself and your authority in this new role.
2. Have a Conversation With the Team
Call your new team together to set expectations and talk about how you will work going forward. Let them know that on one hand, you’re familiar with the team’s work, the people, and the organization. That’s good.
On the other hand, tell them that the way you’ll work and handle situations will look different than it did in the past. You will now be the person managing performance feedback and evaluations.
Let them know that initially, this may be weird and uncomfortable for everyone—but in the end, you’re confident it will be a win for the entire team. Emphasize the trust you’ve built within the team and that you expect it to grow even stronger. Ask for their support, confidence, and trust, and pledge them yours, as well.
3. Adapt Your Day-to-Day Behavior From Peer to Manager
As exhilarating as this change is in many ways, it also means you can’t be part of the team like you used to be. For example, indulging in office gossip was never a good practice to begin with, but as a manager, it’s even more taboo. Although it’s likely the team won’t invite you to the water cooler now, some employees may test you to see if you’ll engage. Excuse yourself with a curt, “That’s really none of my business,” and leave the conversation.
Also keep in mind that employees may love bashing management and questioning their boss’ every decision, policy, and directive. Now that you’re part of that management team, you’ll need to hold your tongue.
Finally, recognize that there’s a fine line between being warm and friendly to your team members and being their buddy. You can be warm and friendly, but don’t confuse your team about what your role really is.
4. Determine How You’ll Manage Resistance
When I took on my new role, some of my employees expected me to magically fix all of the situations we’d previously decided were issues, back when I was on the team. They brought me a list of all the issues they wanted me to work on. It was very frustrating for them to know that an instant fix wasn’t in the realm of possibility.
Your team may purposefully seek to challenge you and thwart your chances for success. They may test you or call you out at every opportunity. Whether they wanted the management job and you beat them out for it, or they’re simply harboring jealousy of your promotion, they may not make the transition as easy as you’d like. It’s not pleasant, but it’s a realistic part of the process that you can anticipate and prepare for.
Ask your challengers what you can do to make the transition work for them. Share your goals and objectives with them, so they know you’re committed to the team’s success. Then, remind them why you were selected for the role and what’s expected of you.
At some point, if your staff can’t buy in to your leadership, they may need to find a department or organization that’s a better fit. And it’s OK to let them know that.
5. Find a Mentor and Confidante
Whether you’re in an organization with good support for this kind of a transition or not, finding a strong mentor is key. Just keep in mind that it shouldn’t be your boss; it should be someone who can offer you unbiased listening, feedback, and suggestions.
In time, what feels like an awkward and uncomfortable transition can grow into a rich and rewarding management experience. Focus on the basics, communicate effectively, and build strong relationships. You’ll have a great story to look back on.