Dear Working Wise:
I was recently hired to replace a long-term employee who left. I am constantly getting comments from my new co-workers like “Bob left some big shoes to fill.” I know Bob was good at his job, but how can I get out of his shadow?
Long-term employees carry a lot of organizational memory and have developed some quick “work-arounds” when problems arise. It’s not that Bob was better than you can be, he just knew the business better. Given time, you will learn the same information and tricks.
Start by shedding some light on that shadow and looking at what Bob did objectively. Bob probably was a very valuable team member, but no one is perfect. The point is you are only getting comments from people who are mourning Bob’s departure. You are not getting the entire history. Your first task is to start learning some of that history.
Talk to your boss and some of those key employees about how Bob did things and how you can do things your own way and blaze your own trail. Try to get specifics about what he did right and wrong. General comments about how great Bob was are not helpful. You need details about what he did, right and wrong.
Use this information to move forward and get everyone thinking you are your own person no haunted by some ghostly Bob.
Be Enterprising: Show initiative, demonstrate good judgment and ask questions. You will need to learn quickly. Ask your supervisor for regular feedback and be prepared to act on it. Take an active role in work activities and social events. Participate in meetings, volunteer for important committees and welcome delegated tasks. You need to show to everyone you are just as helpful as Bob.
Be Professional. Avoid the temptation of becoming a miracle worker by taking on too much, or working solo. Instead, develop strong working relationships with your boss and co-workers by being professional and responsible. Meet deadlines and keep your boss informed about accomplishments and problems. Don't commit to do things if you can’t do them. Try to keep up-to-date on developments in your industry and improve your skills through training. Strike a balance between work and family responsibilities.
Be Resourceful: You need to recognize that growth requires change and resourcefulness. Be creative, share ideas and develop problem-solving skills. It’s wise to always have a Plan B, in case Plan A doesn't work out. Flexibility should be one of your key assets, because you don’t know when things will go awry. Time management and networking are also critical. Knowing how to get things done, and who to rely on can save you countless hours of frustration. Supervisors look for self-motivated people.
Use what you learn from your coworkers and supervisor to increase your value—both perceived and real—and Bob’s shadow will haunt you no more.
Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Charles Strachey is a regional manager with Alberta Employment and Immigration. This article is for general information only.