When someone in your group or department leaves the company through turnover or workforce reduction, you are often times asked to step up and take on part of that person’s role. For most people, this situation doesn’t seem fair to take on more work for the same pay, but it is reality. So what happens when your manager is the one to go? If you are interested in moving into that position, if you take the right steps, you could be the one to get a promotion and replace her/him.
What’s your strategy?
Going after a newly created or vacated position requires a few fundamental steps:
- Let the right people know you want the job
- Take on the responsibilities of the position on top of your own
- Get your work/initiatives in front of the decision makers
- Gather internal support
Let the Right People Know
First find out why your manager left – before approaching your superiors. Did your boss get a promotion? If so then see the path they took and consider how you can do the same. Indicate to your superiors that you want to fill that role and show them that you can do it. Depending on your relationship with your old manager, she/he could be an advocate for you to take on this position.
What if your old boss was asked to leave? Try to find out the reasons why. Was her/his strategy not effective? Did she/he butt heads with upper management? It would be wise to show management that you don’t have those issues or that you have a different game plan. Be prepared to communicate your own strategy and show your ability to get those items done.
Within the first week of the announcement that your boss is leaving (or has left), subtly but directly let the decision makers – typically management – know that you are interested in stepping in. Schedule a one-on-one with the remaining managers to find out what initiatives your old boss was working on that you can continue. At the same time, drop the fact that you are going to step and do these things and you’re hoping to step into your former boss’ old role. Don’t boast or bash your old boss or talk to much – short and direct!
Take on the Responsibilities of Your Boss’ Job
Many times you don’t receive warning that your boss is leaving. Therefore, you need to prepare for the scenario that your boss won’t be in the next day. The time to prepare is when your boss is still employed. Work with your boss, push her/him to explain their strategy, ask about current conversations with upper management, and help out with areas that your boss is challenged with. A little extra work now will put you in an excellent position to step in.
Regardless of why your boss is no longer employed, reach out and ask for tips and insight. Make it clear that you wish she/he was still around. Tell your former manager how you benefited from her/his leadership and express your gratitude. Maintain a positive relationship with your former manager because you may need to ask for more advice!
All this work makes it possible for you to step into your boss’ shoes – participate in her/his meetings, drive their initiatives, provide guidance and direction for the team. If your boss was managing other people, don’t assume that you are managing them. Instead, position yourself as someone who can pursue answers to any HR questions they have or take any appropriate issues to upper management.
Proactively Engage and Avoid Pitfalls
Warning: your boss’ departure may have the other managers thinking in lots of directions. Are they thinking about replacing your former boss with an outside hire? Are they considering breaking up your group? Swiping your team’s funding? Your former manager may have been fighting for your group’s existence. If you want that promotion you’ll need to quickly get up to speed and continue that fight. That’s also an easy way to get recognized as your former boss’ successor.
Your former boss’ direct reports may be wondering why you are acting like their new boss. Be proactive and tell them why. You see the need for someone to continue working on a project or taking on a regular duty that belonged to your old boss. Nothing is stopping your fellow employees from doing the same. In fact, encourage them to help out. If another manager asked you to help out then let the others know exactly what was asked of you and what that means you will be doing. It’s okay to tell your co-workers that you want the role and you are hoping management will see you as a competent replacement.
Get Recognized for the Extra Work
If you are taking on the responsibilities of your former boss on top of yours, you are probably putting in a fair amount of extra time. It will all be worth it if you make sure that your initiative shows up. Here are some ways:
- If you are developing strategy, then schedule meetings with team members and management to get their feedback or just their opinion on your initiative. A 30-second pitch is all you need to make people aware of what you are doing.
- Announce in meetings that you are taking on an initiative that addresses one of the topics in the call. Tell people what you will deliver and ask them to contact you to be involved.
- Organize the leaders of other groups (with relevant expertise) to collaborate with you on your initiatives. Take the lead, get their buy-in and ask them for a deliverable that is in their wheelhouse or area of expertise.
- Re-organize your team to focus on your initiatives. Even if you only get a fraction of their time, get them to help you produce a meaningful deliverable. Give them proper credit, of course, but get their help the same way your boss did.
Gather Internal Support
Many times the decision to promote you will come down to one person’s opinion. The tactics above are geared towards showing that person you’re right for the job. You will also want to speak to other peers and managers of that lone decision maker – those who will influence his/her decision. Therefore, try to speak, one-on-one, with those who could influence the decision. Tell them about your plans and what you are doing. Mention your interest in the position and then let go. Those other managers will see the job you are doing and will mention your name when asked about it. When you shine, others will notice. Good managers will see this and act in the best interest of the company – push for your promotion!
Don’t Wait Too Long
After you have done the job of your former boss for a reasonable amount of time (1 month? 3 months?) or after you carry your company through a big initiative, you should now ask for the position. Schedule some one-on-one time with the decision makers and make your intentions clear:
- Tell them you would like the position
- Give 2 or 3 of your strongest supporting achievements
- Ask them if they will consider you for the job and, if so, when
Maintain professionalism at all times. If some disappointing information comes your way, take it in stride and move on. Later you can process the information, calm down and prepare a response. Don’t hesitate to bring in a mentor or career coach to help with brainstorming and advice.