New employee constantly compared to old employee

Dear Joan:
 
I am in a new position of about six months.  My boss continues to refer to the other person who had the job before me.  I feel that they have not quite come to terms with her decision to leave the job.
 
It is frustrating to me, because I am constantly compared to this person (her personality, any administrative tasks she did, she did not have any problems with…, she would have told me…, etc.)  
 
Of course the previous employee did not erase her emails and she was not as content as the boss thinks she was.  I don't feel that I am being given a fair opportunity to be the new person on the job.

Answer:
No one likes being compared to their big brother or sister, and the workplace is no different. The fact that your new manager doesn’t recognize this well-known fact may be a bad sign. It may signal that your new manager has some significant holes in his or her interpersonal skills. Before jumping to conclusions, however, you need to let him or her know how you feel.
 
You haven’t waved the former employee’s emails under your boss’s nose, which is wise. You don’t have anything to gain by providing evidence that the golden girl wasn’t all she was cracked up to be. In fact, it will make you look defensive and petty.
Instead, you need to tell your manager that the comparison isn’t giving you a fair shot, without badmouthing she-who-walked-on-water.
 
In the first month or so, I would have suggested you let it roll off your back. Your boss obviously thought highly of her and that’s a good thing. Over time, however, that should extinguish as you make the job your own. Since it appears to be lasting six months, it’s time to take it to the next step.
With good humor and a smile, begin to interject comments when your manager says things that are comparative. For instance, if he says, “She never had any problems with that…” You can smile and say, “No? Maybe we should call her and ask her what her secret was!”
 
If he is too dense to pick up on your not-so-subtle suggestion, it’s time to have a straight conversation. Wait until he makes a comparison and then say, “Tom, you may not realize it but you compare me to Shirley quite often. You have said, ’Shirley would have told me,’ and, ’Shirley never had any problems with this,’ and, ’Shirley had a better system for that.’
 
I realize you miss Shirley and you had a good relationship. I hope to have a good relationship with you, too, but I can’t get past Shirley—who still seems to be standing in the room. It’s almost like the husband whose wife passes away and when he tries to date all he ever does it talk about his dead wife. Our relationship can’t grow unless you stop comparing me with her.”
The key elements to this conversation are to stay calm and not get emotional, use specific quotes he has said, and don’t use inflammatory words such as, “You always…” or “You’re not being fair…” or, “If you like Shirley so much why don’t you just ask her to come back!”
 
In addition, ask him for some direct feedback. You could say, ”If there are expectations I’m not meeting, please tell me. But please explain it by saying that I’m not meeting your standards, rather than using Shirley as the standard.”
With some plain talk, your manager should quickly understand the error of his ways. If not, maybe he should call Shirley and beg her to come back and let you go find a manager who will appreciate you.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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