Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

We have recently merged with another firm. I had a leadership role in our former firm and am finding myself sidelined in our new situation. There is another individual in the role that I held (chief operating officer) but she is much younger than I am and has not weathered as many situations. She could learn from me but I’m cut out of meetings and left to figure out how to invent a new role. What can I do to ingratiate myself, make myself useful, participate more and let her know I am not going to challenge her authority but I would like to make a contribution? It’s a tricky situation because I am the odd-man out but I want to figure out a way to provide value and be on the “in.”

E.P.

Merger
Image source: The Blue Diamond Gallery
Merger

Dear E.P.,

Mergers and acquisitions are very tricky. Firms spend a great deal of time focusing on the financial deal, but not enough time figuring out “the human element” and how everyone will fit under a new culture. You are clearly caught in this where there wasn’t a defined role, and you are trying to find a place to make a difference.

I commend your attitude. Instead of being negative about your situation you are seeking ways to contribute and be useful. Unfortunately it’s not uncommon for someone in your situation to be resentful so the fact that you are keeping an upbeat and positive outlook is great.

There are a few things you can do, and many of these suggestions will depend on what kind of culture you have entered. I’m always careful to make blanket statements unless I know more about the leadership, the philosophy, and the culture so please review these ideas with that in mind. Ultimately, you will need to decide what you can do to fit in to your new world:

  1. Ask the current COO out for a cup of coffee to learn more about her approach, and her priorities. If you haven’t taken the “seek to understand” perspective, that would be a good first step. I realize you are seeing things you can share and where you can help, but learning more about what’s she is doing and why could help to ingratiate you more quickly. Watch yourself, though, you need to really listen and to try and understand – don’t be too fast jumping in with your own ideas, or telling her what she needs to do differently. Take the time to listen and learn. If you come back with ideas, you’ll be more credible if she believes you understand enough about what’s happening now.
  2. If there is an HR department, seek them out and ask about your new job description. If this is a very small firm, it’s possible there is nothing but many firms recognize the importance of having some sort of structure, job descriptions, decision-making process, etc. so perhaps you could locate the person responsible for this and see if anything is on file or has been formalized that you are unaware of.
  3. Prepare your ideas in a non-threatening, non-insulting fashion to present to the current COO. Unless you are in a competition for the job, which can happen, I don’t recommend jumping over her and pleading your case to the President or CEO. This can backfire in some cultures. Instead, put together some thoughtful observations of what you’ve seen so far and recommendations you have for improvement/enhancement. Wherever possible, show the pieces you are willing to take on and work on implementing, if approved.
  4. Stay positive. Your note to me exhibits a good attitude in the face of a concerning situation and I’m hoping that’s been your stance with others in the firm. Be really careful about complaining about your experiences to others (either former or new colleagues) and/or of having a generally bad attitude because you are sidelined. While you may be perfectly entitled to this, you are better served complaining over a drink or dinner with a Significant Other or good friend unaffiliated with the business, to allow you to be able to come in and be positive with everyone you are working with in the firm.

By Beverly Flaxington, read the full article here.