6 Things to Avoid When Succeeding a Poor Performer

Don't assume your predecessor was incompetent.


When succeeding a person who was widely regarded as having performed poorly in a position, you may be tempted to adopt some questionable practices. Here are several to avoid:

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Don’t assume that your predecessor was incompetent. Once upon a time, that person was regarded as promising. There may have been solid reasons why certain decisions were made. Your new boss may have even contributed to the problems. Furthermore, you may be working with some people who were there before and who may have some ties to those “questionable” decisions. 

Don’t take cheap shots at your predecessor. The old ploy of blaming the last person may work for around a month. After that, it’s your watch. If you continue to make excuses, people will rapidly conclude that you are weak and not up to the job. 

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Don’t adopt the “opposite” approach. Deciding to do the opposite of what your predecessor did is mindless. Be selective in terms of what you’ll keep and what you’ll abandon. You may find that the best approach is found in tweaks and modifications rather than in overturning previous practices. 

Don’t overlook the system. It is easy to emphasize personalities and leadership styles. As an executive once noted, most organizations get the results they are designed to get. Look for how the organization’s routine practices may push performance in a certain direction. 

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Don’t take an adversarial tone with the current team. In many respects, they are your school. Pick their brains. Find out what they want changed and what they want preserved. If need be, let them vent about past practices but move their focus toward what should be done now. 

Don’t define yourself in contrast to your predecessor. You don’t want the Ghost of Leadership Past to haunt your meetings and decisions. Bring your own style to the job and let time do its work. A rapid transition will help to shift attention to what’s happening now and what’s coming down the track. Your reputation will be made there, not in a reaction to the past.

Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.


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