Managing change: What to do when a colleague becomes your manager

By on 19th May 2015

The news has been announced; one of your colleagues has received a job promotion and is moving up a level to join the management team. Today, they're your work-mate - somebody you work alongside as part of the team. But soon enough they will transition from a co-worker to a manager, and this means managing change in the workplace.

How do you cope with the transition when a colleague becomes your manager? It can be a difficult period for all concerned; the new member of the leadership and management team, and the colleagues they have been promoted above. Here's what you can do, as a professional, to make the process as seamless as possible for when your colleague becomes your manager:

1. Be supportive and empathetic

Even if you're annoyed with the thought of being managed by your colleague, you need to be supportive and understanding. As a professional, it's your responsibility to help your co-worker as they move up a tier and start their new job. They are stepping into a new role and will find the transition more straightforward. It helps to make an effort to improve your relationship with your boss as they will require support from their staff.

2. Expect your relationship to change

When a colleague becomes your manager, they cannot socialise with you in the same way. It is their responsibility to treat everybody equally - they cannot be seen to have any favourites. This doesn't mean you can't spend time in the company of your boss, inside or outside of work, but for the sake of their professional integrity, a little more distance will be required.

3. Respect your manager's authority

Irrespective of your personal opinion of your new boss, you need to respect their authority and follow the instructions they give you. You might disagree with what they say, but in the short-term at least, you need to fall into line. If you are seen to undermine your new boss it could become a disciplinary matter, and have negative consequences for your career.

4. Keep your head down

Unless you have immediately pressing issues with your work, which need to be resolved straight away, you should try to delay discussions about your workload. You need to give your boss the chance to settle into their role, conduct a review of their team, and create a plan for the future. Once they have a strategy in place, this may address some of your concerns. If it doesn't, then this is the time to speak to your boss.

5. Be flexible and embrace change

It may be the case that your new manager wants to introduce new policies or change employees' workloads. They will have their own reasons for doing so, and it's up to you - and your colleagues - to accept their decision with good grace and embrace the changes. If a colleague becomes your manager they need to be given a chance to make a mark on the team, using their skills, knowledge and experience.

6. Be the voice of reason

If your fellow workers are unhappy at the promotion decision, and feel in mutinous mood, you should try to remind them of their professional responsibilities. Your team needs to give the new boss a fair crack of the whip, regardless of personal views or the collective opinion. Negative thoughts within the team can only impede morale, productivity and output, and this reflects badly on everybody. If a poor managerial appointment has been made, this will become apparent throughout the company soon enough. It isn't for disgruntled employees to take matters into their own hands.

7. Show your worth

As a professional, you need to work hard, perform to your best every day and prove how valuable you are. They may already be aware of your individual capabilities and the value you add, but this is your chance to achieve greater career success by positioning yourself as a key member of the team. If you prove yourself to be a real asset - somebody your new boss comes to rely upon - then it might just be you who gains the next promotion.

While you may be coming to terms with the fact that your colleague has become your manager, understand that they have been promoted and they are learning how to manage former colleagues. Having a colleague become your boss is never going to be easy, but it is manageable.

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