#NextChat: How Do You Manage Former Peers?

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek July 22, 2020
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managing peers

​Landing a people manager position can be a great career boost, but with it come new challenges. One example: figuring out how to supervise employees you once worked with as peers.

A recent Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) #NextChat question posed by Mary Kaylor, SHRM-SCP, manager of public affairs at SHRM, asked for tips on how to manage former peers. The following is a compilation of responses from LinkedIn and Twitter.


Set expectations and boundaries so that the friendship/comradeship/work excellence is not blurred but rather defined. And tailor as necessary with continuous communication.

Richeena J. Campbell, SHRM-CP, HR professional at Grand Bahama Power Co. in the Bahamas, on LinkedIn 


—Jeff Palkowski, SHRM-SCP, senior HR specialist in workforce relations for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, on Twitter

This is a very valid concern/topic of discussion. While not being an expert, I have personally experienced this on both sides. There is no 'one thing' that you need to do; effective relationship is too complex for that. A few things, in varying degrees based on the situation, that I have experienced as successful are: 1. Humility - [Be] Open to learn and listen to others. It's not about being right. 2. Being supportive - Make sure you reiterate the fact that you are there to help them to be successful, you are not there to be better or smarter than they are. 3. Be encouraging - Always end on a positive note. Encourage growth and moving forward rather than condemning the past. Enforce standards and expectations but never condemn them or their actions. Build them up towards better results and make sure they have the tools to accomplish the goals set for them.

Andrew Perkins, senior account manager at Verified First in the Boise, Idaho, area, on LinkedIn

Having gone through this transition, there are two main ideas that I have continuously used. The first being that boundaries as manager/direct report have to be communicated and maintained. And second, just because you are now the manager, you still don't know everything. Ask for help if they are the subject matter expert.

Kathy Wellnitz, HR leader at Novares Group in the Janesville/Beloit area of Wisconsin, on LinkedIn 

—David Kovacovich, business development director at BI Worldwide, in San Francisco, on Twitter

You can still be friends but you should prepare yourself to set the management expectations and boundaries. Have the constructive conversations and hold them accountable. I went from associate to manager and it was hard to get the hang of that. When I transferred stores and had the experience I was able to pass that on to the others.

Amanda Brison, onboarding specialist at West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown, W.Va., on LinkedIn 

My thoughts on this question start back when the new leader was the peer of those new direct reports. Were you professional, an informal leader, modeled maturity and set a standard? The transition to leading your former peers is eased by the natural respect and care you showed them while you were peers.

Hope Webb, SHRM-SCP, employee relations manager at Amazon in the greater Denver area, on LinkedIn 

—Christie Engler, director of client services at Consolidated Employer Services in the Columbus, Ohio, area, on Twitter

—Melanie Peacock, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, consultant at Sole Proprietor in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on Twitter

—Nancy Walker, deputy director at Southwest Health and Human Services in Sioux City, S.D., on Twitter.

 
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