20 May 2013
Dealing with the Ghost of Your Predecessor

by Gina Blitstein

You’ve got a new position taking over for a previous employee – congratulations! Of course, you want to do a great job for the sake of your company and yourself. The important thing to realize in this situation is that you’re taking on more than a job. You’re taking on all the history – good and bad – of your predecessor.

Whether you have the power and inclination to start fresh or your goal is to maintain the status quo, you have the “Ghost of Your Predecessor” to deal with. Were they good at their job? A top producer? A favorite among the employees? Prone to sloppy performance? Difficult to work with? Not a team player? The factor that makes the biggest difference is the circumstances under which the employee left the position. Let’s look at two scenarios and your possible course of action:

Scenario 1 – Everyone Loved Jessica!

What a shame she moved to Seattle… Jessica was a peach! Friendly, helpful, considerate, hard-working and smart! She was apparently a joy to work with and the company has no expectation that changes need to be made.

What you may discover: It’s nice to move into a position where co-workers are predisposed to like you. While it’s true you’re no Jessica, folks will usually give you the benefit of the doubt, based upon their satisfaction with the performance of the position.

How to make your mark: To reiterate, you’re not Jessica. Although things went well while she was at the helm, it’s only right that you put your stamp on the position once it’s yours. Chances are, you work, communicate and produce differently than Jessica. It’s perfectly all right to interject your vision and work style into the position – just do it gradually.

Making too many changes too soon may prove off-putting to your co-workers and lead to a lack of their support. The best course of action to take when replacing a beloved co-worker is to ease into any changes you’d like to make. Take the time to discover the most critical areas where your changes can make the biggest impact. When they see that things are continuing to flourish, you co-workers will realize that although you work differently than Jessica, you are equally capable and they will come to respect you for the attributes you bring to the position.

Scenario 2 – Jessica wasn’t working out…

Unfortunately, it looks like Jessica wasn’t the right person for the position and was let go. Perhaps there were personality clashes or lapses in communication. Whatever the reason, you’re stepping into a position that’s a potential hornet’s nest.

What you may discover: Your co-workers may lack faith in the person in your position, and possibly, therefore, in you personally. They may be predisposed to thinking that, because Jessica couldn’t succeed, you won’t either. It’s important to wipe the slate clean as you step into her position or you’ll be wrestling with preconceived notions that may have nothing to do with you or your performance.

How to make your mark: Your first step should be to try to discover specifically what was amiss under Jessica’s tenure. Talk candidly with everyone with whom Jessica interacted to learn what challenges she faced. Use that information to inform your first changes. Work quickly to make those first important – and hopefully impactful – changes so that your co-workers will see that “there’s a new sheriff in town” and that things are going to turn around. Once co-workers see that your changes are effectual, it will be easier to gain their support moving forward.

When things are on a more even keel, begin to craft your own vision for the position and implement changes more gradually. Include such things as your work, leadership and communication style into that vision. Communication of that vision to the rest of the company is critical. Spell out not only what you want to do but what you expect from your co-workers.

Regardless of the reason, it’s challenging to step into the shoes of your predecessor. Whether she was beloved, despised or simply ineffectual, you represent a change for everyone. Move slowly and show that you are willing to make changes for the good of the company, the position and yourself. You’ll gain the support or your co-workers so you can move forward as a successful, unified team.

Gina Blitstein combines her insight as a fellow small business owner with her strong communication skills, exploring topics that enhance your business efforts. That first-hand knowledge, matched with an insatiable curiosity to know more about just about anything, makes her a well-rounded writer with a sincere desire to engage and inform.


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.  Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank.


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