Successfully managing the performance of veteran employees moved into new roles may well be one of the most challenging tasks you face as a manager. There are a number of reasons for this situation to have occurred. Sometimes, when companies downsize or restructure, veteran employees accept assignments that are new to them when their former roles are eliminated. Particularly in a merger situation, a veteran employee may be redundant. Management may feel that his or her skill sets simply have not advanced appropriately, and he is moved into a different position—and he does not regard the move as positive.
Some companies do actually move problem employees around rather than dealing with their performance directly, too! As you can imagine, the successful integration of a veteran employee into your organization will involve challenges you will not have with a brand new employee. You may be dealing with preconceived notions, perhaps some bad habits, and even resentment, both from the newly assigned employee and from the rest of your current team.
As in most sticky situations, effective communication is absolutely critical to successful integration of your newly acquired employee. Unfortunately, there are managers who ignore this truth, or are simply unaware of it. They prefer to “let things settle down,” or to simply ignore the challenges. If you, as a manager, don’t proactively manage the integration of these employees into your work group, you will feel the negative repercussions. Your stance must be to proactively support this new person, to make sure he understands his new role thoroughly, to make sure misconceptions are addressed, and to do everything necessary to successfully absorb him into your department as a fully functional contributor.
If a restructure was involved in your acquisition of this person, explain the restructure thoroughly to include the business case and the expected outcomes. Don’t make assumptions that your new or existing employees understand why the restructure was done or how it will impact your department. Explain how your new employee fits into the new structure. Take as much time as you need to answer all questions your employees may have about the changes impacting their work lives. The reason for your investment of time in this communication is simple. People see the change. They are impacted by the change, and it feels threatening, even if it’s actually a very positive outcome. If concrete information about the change is not forthcoming from you, the manager, employees will spend counter-productive time in speculation. Rumors will abound, and are often believed as fact. Time will be wasted. Don’t let this happen in your organization. Address the issues openly and professionally and answer questions in a straight-forward, matter-of-fact way. Don’t sugar-coat the truth if there are down-sides. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. If you are unable to share information say so. Your candor and frankness is what your employees need now.
Once you have addressed the issues your team is grappling with, it’s time to work directly with your newly acquired employee. This person may well be a recognized expert in a previous role, but may be quite unfamiliar with the work performed in your group. This is a great place to start. Regardless of the reason this person now reports to you, he likely feels some uneasiness about working for a new manager, or being in a new role, or both. Start with acknowledging that fact and explain that your initial goal is to find out what the employee has done previously and what skills he possesses. Next, you and the employee need to discuss the expectations of the new job. Finally, you and the employee will identify gaps in past experience, training or knowledge that will need to be bridged to make the veteran employee functional in the new role.
Let’s begin at the beginning. Think about the reason you’ve ended up with this employee. If the employee is unhappy about the move, talk to him about that. Don’t ignore it. Talk about any perceived or real loss of status or responsibility. Many employees in these situations stubbornly cling to “the way we did it in my old department.” While you can listen to these statements initially, it’s important to let the employee know if work is done differently in your department and why. You can accept suggestions which may work well for you, but don’t feel that you have to hear continual carping about how this employee used to do things. Explain respectfully that you understand that he did his work that way before, but that the expectations in your department are different and the reasons for those differences. Confirm that the employee understands this direction just as you would with a brand new employee.
Your new employee may have some bad habits which were tolerated or ignored by his previous management. Address these quickly. If the expectation is to be on time for work and to always attend meetings on time, make those expectations clear. This is only fair to your new employee. It’s also critical that your current employees see that the new person is held to the same standards they are. Explain professionally what the expectations is, why it is important, that you expect compliance, and what the consequences could be for non-compliance. This is obviously not as simple as it sounds here on paper, but the more quickly you address bad habits, the better for you, the new employee, and your existing team.
Spend some time talking about what your new employee brings to the table. Perhaps he has a skill your department previously lacked. Figure out how to put it to use. The new employee will feel valued, and his new colleagues will look at him as a positive contributor.
More often than not, there will be gaps in the knowledge your new employee needs to be successful in this new role. If you think about these gaps in two categories, your path forward becomes clearer more quickly. Decide whether the short-falls are skill and knowledge based or performance based. Not knowing a computer program your department uses is a skill short-fall. Being late to meetings is a performance short-fall, and you address these differently.
First, consider the skill short-falls. Look at your current work group. If there are existing competencies in your group which are not being fully utilized, consider those people as you reorganize work and figure out where your new person fits in. If you have a team member who is a computer wizard, but does not routinely use that skill set, you may want to move some work around to take advantage of the skills of all your team. Don’t just assume that the new person will take on whatever is not being done today. He may be more well-suited to work someone else is currently doing. And that current team member may well be delighted to expand her role into an area in which she excels. This doesn’t always happen, but it’s worth thinking about when you are structuring the job of the new employee.
Next, once you are confident that you know what day-to-day work looks like, assess your new employee’s skills against that role. Are there new skills and tasks that this person will need to learn? Just because someone was a recognized “expert” in the old job, don’t make the mistake of thinking they will pick up the new work without some coaching or even formal training. Honor the need for additional and different re-training. Be sensitive to the fact that this person may feel pretty unsettled and insecure in the new role, particularly if he could do the old job particularly well. Provide the necessary support to get these people to a level of competence so they can feel comfortable and so they can provide the contributions you expect.
Once the skill sets have been addressed, or even concurrently with addressing them, it’s time to think about performance-based issues. The way to start with those is to make sure your employee understands the expectations in your department. Your work may require accuracy or attention to detail which is new to this person. You may work a lot of overtime, or have pressing deadlines to address. Your new employee may have worked in an area, even in the same company, where the performance expectations were quite different than in your department. It’s time for frank communication again.
Explain how your department is structured and why. Explain what your goals are and how the goals are measured. Talk about customer and supplier interaction. Talk about any challenges your department is facing to include deadlines and the expectation for overtime or extra work. Make sure the new employee understands these performance expectations every bit as well as he understands the skills and knowledge needed to be successful. If new employees fail, veteran or not, it is usually because of a short-fall in performance areas rather than skill areas. Whether or not someone knows a particular computer program or has a fork-lift license is pretty easy to ascertain and easy to correct if necessary. Performance expectations, if not properly communicated, are far more difficult to re-work after the fact.
Lastly, give some serious consideration to assigning a peer mentor to your new employee. You will not think of everything yourself. Assigning a mentor lets the new person know you want to integrate them successfully, and that you do take seriously this challenge. The peer mentor is also a great source of information and steering, if you will, for you. He can tell you how the new person is fitting in, what additional training or intervention may be necessary, and even suggest new assignments when he feels the person is ready.
After all, your goal as a manager is to make the most of the resources you are given. While integrating a veteran employee into your department may be a different kind of challenge, it can be done successfully for all involved.