Leadership Techniques: How to Manage Legacy Employees as a New Manager

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Leadership Techniques: How to Manage Legacy Employees as a New Manager

Moving into a role as a new manager can be difficult under normal circumstances. However, legacy employees, typically defined as those who have been with a company for 10+ years, further complicate matters.

On the one hand, legacy employees often have a long history of dedication, loyalty, and good work. On the other, many operate using old processes and structures, may be resistant to change, and are often unwilling to accept the expertise of outsiders who often (arguably) do have a lot to learn.

In some cases, the answer to legacy employees is simply removing them if they are not willing to adapt to new processes. In other cases, working with legacy employees to introduce the how and why of new processes, or otherwise help them to adapt to new leadership may be beneficial in retaining valuable and loyal employees.

Drive Buy-In

It’s important for any employee understand leadership changes and structure, but many new managers don’t make the effort to generate buy-in for legacy employees. This creates problems where needed changes are obvious to the new manager but often intelligible to the employee.

Workshops, meetings, and one-on-one coaching with employees can help them to better understand why and where change is needed for success.

Show Emotional Intelligence

Most people have difficulty with change and adopting new processes because it challenges their authority and often their ability to do their job well. Understanding that resistance to change is often because of insecurity can help you create a better approach based on their specific problems and difficulties.

Show Respect

A long-term employee may feel that they know the company and its needs better than you. This may be true.

Showing respect by asking for opinions, soliciting advice, and directly sharing the reasoning and information behind your decisions will help to build trust, giving legacy employees further opportunity to feel valued while understanding changes. Operating a culture of transparency gives you and them the ability to see what’s going on, why, and will help them to trust what you are doing.

Redefine Roles

Legacy employees often feel as though they are experts in the company and their job. Redefine roles to better reflect what the company needs now, and offer training and assistance to move to those roles. This can help legacy employees adjust, while helping them understand why change is needed.

Job roles and expectations often change over time, and someone operating in a legacy position may not understand that. By redefining the role with HR using a competency framework, you can better define and communicate both hard and soft skills needed to perform well in the role now.

Terminating Legacy Employees

In some cases, employees are no longer a good cultural fit. They may be unwilling to adapt, may no longer have relevant skills, and may have no interest in respecting new leadership. Terminating their employment (with severance and help), may be the best way to go. It’s difficult to cut long-term employees, and you should give them the option to learn and grow with the company first, but you won’t always have that option.

Legacy employees can be valuable contributors to business, with a long history of loyalty and dedication. If processes and leadership are changing, it’s crucial that they have the opportunity to understand what’s going on and why. Similarly, it’s also a good idea to respect that change is often difficult and showing compassion and recognizing the seniority of the employee in matters regarding company history and processes. Doing so will allow you to build trust and buy-in for change, so you can develop new relationships with your organizations most loyal employees.


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