Manage the Person You Got Hired Over Without Negativity
When you start a new position, it would be nice if everyone was happy to see you—but particularly when you're taking a management role, that's not always the case. Chances are good you may be supervising someone who had their eye on your position and saw themselves quite comfortably in it. This situation can be tricky to navigate, but it is possible to manage the person you got hired over and both come out stronger on the other end.
Start by openly communicating with your supervisor
If you've been internally promoted, you likely know who else was in the running for your role (or at least thought they should be). If you're coming from the outside, it can be trickier to figure this out. Start by asking your supervisor for some intel on your team. Of course, you don't want to seem paranoid with too much focus on who might have vied for your position, but asking some targeted questions could reveal this and other useful information: What was the previous dynamic on the team like? Who were the star performers? Who might need extra coaching and attention? Peers in similar management roles may also have useful observations to share.
Assume positive intent
As you settle in, set up one-on-one check-ins with each of your new team members. Although you don't want them to dish on one another—that would open the door for toxicity—you do want to hear directly from them what challenges they face and what goals they have. You may be surprised at what information they may reveal. Make it clear to each member of your team, including the person you were hired over, that you value their contributions, and their institutional knowledge is crucial to your success.
If you find out someone may still be resentful you were hired, use the opportunity to be the bigger person. Tuck that knowledge away—you can't ignore it—but give them some space to let their wounds heal. You also need to assume positive intent until you have concrete proof otherwise. Don't go looking for trouble.
Address problems swiftly
Ideally, your employee will start to see you as a potential mentor and realize they are happier in their current position after all. But we don't live in an ideal world. The day may come when you need to broach the issue. If you notice a negative attitude or passive-aggressive behaviors, deal with the situation ASAP.
Follow the same best practices you would with any employee issue: Meet with the employee privately, unless the behavior is so egregious you need to involve HR from the start. This isn't a conversation you should have on the fly. Remember you are dealing with a bruised ego. You can start your approach by saying you've noticed some tension, hesitancy, etc., from them, and you've become aware they had applied for your position. Say you want to clear the air with them and reemphasize their importance to the team. Your goal is a positive conversation you both leave with a clear understanding: You are the supervisor, they are a valued team member, and you have no tolerance for any behavior counter to those roles.
And, of course, document your entire conversation—just as you've been documenting any behavior or interactions that seemed off.
One conversation may be enough. If it isn't, you need to address the next instance equally swiftly because at this point you are likely dealing with insubordination. Make sure your supervisor and the HR department are in the loop because you may need to start a formal write-up process that ultimately leads to termination. This is never fun, but you must keep the health of the entire team in mind. Your No. 1 job as a supervisor is ensuring their success. You can't let one person's negativity distract everyone.
If your team member ends up leaving, that's OK. In hindsight, they may realize your hire was the catalyst they needed for their next great move.