I received a number of confidential responses to my blog post on “Top ten ways to create a hostile workplace.” One theme in many responses was about the question: “What should I do if leadership has changed and the new bosses want me gone so they can bring in their own people?”
That’s a situation I’ve also seen many times in my consulting.
What would you do?
Consider Jake. The new bosses want him gone so they can bring in people they know or people who will be beholden to them. Jake tries to prove to them that he’s a great manager, but they systematically undercut his authority. He used to get good evaluations, but his new bosses are very critical. They blame him for everything that goes wrong with his team. He’s the scapegoat.
Jake is furious. It’s unfair; they’re bullies and he’s being abused. He’s a good worker and he’s trying hard. He wants to meet them half way, but they don’t want to. Nothing he does convinces them he’s a good performer. He’s hurt, frustrated and angry. Jake wants to fight back, but when he acts on his anger, they write him up. It’s a hostile workplace.
I think Jake is beginning at the wrong place – how can I fight back and show them I’m good? How can I preserve my reputation with them? Jake can’t fight back by showing them that he’s a good manager, team leader and individual performer. He can’t preserve his reputation with them. They don’t care. He’s not an individual to them.
Of course it’s hard to be treated that way. One of the hardest things for us as Americans in our little slice of time is not to be treated as individuals. Jake is being treated as a class of people: He’s in the class of people called, “Hired by the old bosses and not one of our new people.” When you're treated that way, there's little you, as an individual, can do to change their minds. Unless you can get them to see you as an individual.
The new bosses criticize him as if he’s a problem employee. Jake takes their hostility personally. He returns their hostility and wants to prove himself. But he’s not a poor employee and it’s not personal, even though it has personal consequences for him.
When he takes it personally, he can’t think tactically and he makes it worse for himself. When he gets frustrated, hurt and angry, he acts out and gives them excuses they can document for getting rid of him rapidly. He gets poor evaluations and terminated before he finds another job.
This situation is similar to that of Charles, case study #10 in my book, “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks.”
I think that the place Jake has to begin is, “Who should I be/how should I look at it?” Here’s what I mean.
Amy is in the same position as Jake: the new bosses want to get rid of her and many other leaders in the company. Unlike Jake, she accepts that it’s not about her as an individual, even though it has individual consequences for her. With coaching, she doesn’t take it personally. She doesn’t like it any more than Jake does, but she can step back and plan her tactics thoughtfully. How can she defend herself?
First she asks if there’s anything she can do to become one of the new team. The answer is, “No.” She doesn’t like what’s happening, so she finds out if they’re violating any protected categories. Are they going after people on the basis of gender, age, race, religion, disabilities, etc? No, it’s the new broom sweeping clean.
She doesn’t want bad evaluations on her record, so she makes them an offer: “If you give me good evaluations, recommendations and severance while I look for another job, I’ll go quietly and gracefully in a shorter time than it will take you to force me out.” They agree. They just want her gone as soon as they can and with as little fuss as they can. With a good recommendation, Amy rapidly gets a better job as part of someone’s new team. The severance enables her to get double pay for a few months.
Notice Amy’s sequence:
- Don’t take it personally and defend yourself by thinking tactically.
- See if you have a legal grievance.
- If the deck is stacked against you, plan to leave with good recommendations.
- Bargain for time to get a better job with people who appreciate you.
Jake needs to change how he looks at it so that he can change his impossible goals - getting the bosses to see him as a worthy individual they should keep or leaving with them thinking he’s as good an employee as he really is. They don’t care about his feelings or the truth about how he’s performed. But they’d rather keep things civil and pleasant enough for them, and maybe squeeze a little work out of him or just squeeze him because they don't like the old team.
Amy is glad to be gone and happy at her new job. Jake is still bitter. That shows up when he interviews for new jobs.
I know it sounds unfair, but there it is.
What’s been your experience?