How To Manage Senior Subordinates

One of the most challenging managerial tasks is figuring out how to manage subordinates who can already pass off as their fathers and mothers. Having experienced the same scenario back when I was young, and a few calories and cholesterol level less, a lot of memories came rushing to me. Just after college, I was asked to run our family business. Along with it were several employees who have been with us ever since I was still a child.
It is true that it is never easy managing older subordinates, especially when they used to be your mentors when you were still a trainee, or worse, the ones who used to see you playing with your toys when you were still a toddler (in the case of COOs or children of owners). It is natural to feel awkward because we are all deeply fond of the Filipino culture of showing respect toward our elders. But as managers, you hold not only a position of trust granted by the owners and directors of the business, but also a position of leadership, being accountable for everyone under your team. You are responsible for molding a defined path for your subordinates, regardless of your relationship with them before your promotion. I am writing this article now to give a few tried-and-tested techniques on how to manage your older subordinates without the butterflies in your stomach:
Get to know them better. While this advice is applicable to other subordinates, this is even more important in the case of senior employees. There is a lot that you can find out that will be extremely helpful in managing them. Know their pet peeves, what motivates them, and what is their opinion on various matters. You can learn much by direct questioning and being in touch with the grapevine.
Do not be intimidated. Understand your position in the company. You lead everyone in the team, and if you think that avoiding giving directions to your older subordinates is Ok and is just a sign of respect, then quite frankly, you might not actually be cut out for your position at all. Remember that a leader must know how to establish a working professional relationship with his or her team, regardless of who is older or younger. While you should give them due respect, seniors should in no way be allowed to disregard the rules.
Make your desired changes early. Some people would probably argue that it is better to avoid making changes in your early period of leadership. The problem in doing so, however, is that your people are already expecting changes and are more willing to adapt to new protocols when there are new leaders that will take over the operations. When you let things cool down, people would assume that you choose to retain old practices. The longer it takes for you to implement changes, the more the people will be resistant to change.
Involve them. All things equal, employees increase in value the longer they stay. Older subordinates have simply seen more than you besides having more time to gain proficiency in their tasks. Some of them might have faced issues leading to retrenchment and had to say goodbye to their colleagues, some might have dealt with demand spikes, and some might even have handled key accounts and new the peculiarities of the clients. Involve your older subordinates in formulating adjustments you want to have in the company. They are the ones who can help point out possible flaws in your plan. Older subordinates value their years of experience in the company. Validate them by asking them for inputs and assuming that it is merited, give them key roles in projects.
Mentor them back. The last thing you want your subordinates to feel, especially the older ones, is for them to feel as if they do not know anymore how to perform their tasks due to new protocols. When implementing new procedures, make sure that you will be able to provide ample training for everyone, especially to those who have been used to the previous procedure for as long as they have been in the company. Provide assistance and attention until such time that they add to their system the new processes you implement.
Managing senior employees is a delicate task. One must be both firm and understanding. Nevertheless, the extra effort to improve your way of dealing with them is time well spent and will ultimately bring numerous benefits.

*Originally published by the Manila Bulletin. C-4, Sunday, December 6, 2015. Written by Ruben Anlacan, Jr. (President, BusinessCoach, Inc.) All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.