Q: A little over 3 months ago, I got promoted to supervisor in my department. Been with the company for over a year and I’m now supervising the people I used to work with. I’m having a hard time dealing with a few of them because they are also my friends. My boss told me that I have to forget about the past and get on with the job; supervision is not a popularity contest she told me, more than once. I know she’s right but I’m not sure how to tackle that. I don’t want to piss them off and at the same time I want them to take me more seriously. I’m their boss now!! I wonder if you could give me some pointers on how I can deal with this. I hope you can help. Thanks! Derek
A: This situation has come up a few times in my training sessions over the years. It’s a challenging one to deal with because it seems that a wedge is driven between your responsibilities as a supervisor and your loyalty to your friends, who are now your direct reports. Here’s what I suggest you do;
First, you should not forget the past. The relationships you created over the past year are to be valued and will be of great benefit to everyone concerned, including the company; it all depends how you look at it!
The knowledge you gained about individual team members is now a wealth of information you can use in your new role. You know their likes and dislikes, what makes them tick, and what motivates them. Work colleagues who get together outside of working hours tend to talk a lot about work and work related situations – I assume you socialize outside of work as you mentioned your employees are also friends. Co-workers often complain about or disagree with changes that are taking place. They criticize management’s approach in dealing with a multitude of issues and are often disgruntled because their suggestions for improvements were not adopted, or even listened to…and the list goes on!
It’s important for you to understand how powerful that knowledge is. Why not use it to make positive changes in your department and get all involved in the decision and the execution of those very changes? Too often, managers and supervisors discount the collective intelligence and skills base of their employees when making decisions, particularly about change. Don’t make that mistake because you’ll be perceived as another “who sold his soul” to corporate. The more you involve your people, the less resistant they will be!
Secondly, communicate the specific difficulties you have with specific individuals. Have a one-one sit-down conversation. Let them know how challenging it is for you to separate personal feelings from business issues and that you need to be taken more seriously. Make sure to give concrete examples to support your need to be respected and accepted as their supervisor. I suspect you might be surprised as to how receptive your people will be. Remain calm, listen attentively, and focus your energy on reaching your individual objectives.
I once heard that there are three kinds of people on this earth; there are those who wait for things to happen, those who talk about what happened, and those who make things happen. Derek, I think the choice of the person you aim to be is the latter; be pro-active.
I hope my tips help you deal with this situation. Remember, I am here to help you so if you wish, let me know in a month or two, how things are shaping up. Meantime, good luck…