What's your problem?

My boss was fired for his incompetence, and I've taken his place. I'm struggling with my new team.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Before now, we were friends who went to the pub together and talked about work. So I know exactly who are the moaners and the lazy ones. The problem is that they know I know, and so our manager/ employee relationship is already off to a bad start. How can I smooth the path and encourage them to adopt a more conscientious approach?

A Unless your company has a deliberate policy of promoting incompetent people, I have to assume you're not one of them. You may not have been a goodie-goodie and you probably enjoyed a moan with your pint as much asanyone, but your team must know from direct personal observation that when it comes to the work, you've always been conscientious. The sooner you make it clear that you expect the same of them, the better for all of you.

As of course you realise, there's not the slightest chance of your being able to preserve your previous personal relationships. Nor should you want to. Nor, come to that, would the others respect you if you tried. You can't be someone's boss and their best mate at the same time.

You say your manager/employee relationship has got off to a bad start, but I bet it hasn't with everyone. I bet it's only the moaners and the lazy ones who are making life difficult for you. The others will be watching intently from the sidelines to see how you deal with this. If the moaners get you on the run, you're done for.

You need to make an early statement - by which I don't mean some wordy e-mail setting out your pious expectations. That would only open you up to ridicule. I mean action.

As soon as you've got rock-solid evidence of someone's irresponsibility - even if that someone has been an engaging pub companion - you must confront him/her with it face to face. Make it absolutely clear that things are going to be different from now on and that you'll be keeping a record. Leave him or her in no doubt that those who don't deliver will be fired - or whichever euphemism you prefer as long as it is unambiguous. You won't need to broadcast this conversation - it'll be round the office with the speed of a spicy rumour, and the good, quiet ones will be delighted and relieved. The snide asides and the unfunny jokes won't stop immediately: the jesters have to save a bit of face. But things will never be the same again - and can only get better.

One last but very important point. As a new boss, you probably won't be familiar with the legally necessary procedures if you're thinking of terminating someone's contract. Make sure you become so.

Jeremy Bullmore has been creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London and a non-executive director of both the Guardian Media Group and WPP.

Address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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