I’ve just made partner at a large firm in the City. I’m delighted, but it was a competitive process with two other senior associates in my department vying for promotion as well. None of us have ever really got on and the past year or two in the run-up to partnership has just exacerbated the tension.
I was the only one to get made up this year and, while I know how to act professionally, I feel unsure about how to best engage with them, given the bad blood between us and my new status. Have you any advice on managing my former peers?
Ray Berg, managing partner, Osborne Clarke
Actively looking for ways to communicate shows you have good self-awareness and strong emotional intelligence. The best advice I can give is to keep the lines of communication open; if you establish a good foundation just after your promotion, you can build on this over time.
Before any announcement is made, I am sure that the partner in charge of your team will meet with your two colleagues to let them know about the outcome of the process in advance of a wider firm-wide communication. That way there will be no surprises and it won’t look as though the promotion is being hidden from them.
You should also speak to another recently promoted partner. This is a challenge that all partners face and adjusting to it is important for the next stage of your career.
You could then follow up with each of them individually to discuss the promotion as well. When you meet, it’s really important to be honest and tell them you recognise that this may be difficult at first but you are determined to work with them to manage the transition together. Also tell them that you realise this change will take getting used to on both sides but neither you nor they should be uncomfortable with the situation.
In time, you may want to offer them your thoughts on how to approach the promotion process next time around.
Elaine Hutton, EU general counsel, Shiseido Group
You’re already on the way by acknowledging how they must be feeling. Consider having a chat to clear the air and to acknowledge that these promotions often come down to the strength of business case for the individual at that point in time, and that you are certain their time will come and you would like to support them in the future.
If that fails then they are being churlish and, having held out an olive branch, there’s not much more you can do except wait for them to come round, be sensitive to their position and remember that they may well be your fellow partners within a year or two.
Sally Davies, London managing partner, Mayer Brown
You sound a bit smug, which I don’t like. I would have preferred you to have had a good relationship with your two colleagues before you were promoted rather than try to repair things now, which will be more difficult. It is possible to be competitive and collegiate and I would urge more junior people to consider this before getting to the stage where you are now. Yes, you are in a competitive environment, but you have to work together in teams and you should not lose sight of this.
However, you are where you are. You should find out from more senior management what the strategy is for the department, what future promotion prospects are looking like and how these may impact the two senior associates. My advice would be to approach each of them separately. Perhaps in an informal way, show a more human side and try to explain your take on the run-up to partnership and how you regret things getting so fraught and competitive.
Explain that now you want to share your experiences and help in their own promotion process… if that is a possibility for them. This will take time and they will probably be suspicious of your motives. You need to look at your own succession. Being newly promoted is the best time to do this, in my view. You should work out which of them, if either, could be helpful and supportive as partners, work generators and team members in the future. This may be tricky but you should talk to them, listen to them and have a hard look at yourself.
This will be difficult and they may be critical of you, but you should continue to listen and learn things about yourself as well as show them you can be collegiate and supportive. This will take time…
Caroline Kenny, associate general counsel, media products, Facebook
Congratulations on your hard-won achievement. Inevitably the dynamics among the three of you are going to significantly alter in the new world once everyone has had time to digest the change. This situation is common among highly competitive peers and things will settle down.
How would you act if one of them had been made up? I’m sure the answer is with grace and professionalism and you should expect the same from your colleagues; they have every incentive to collaborate positively with you.
If, however, they don’t, then all you can do is maintain your integrity and resolve and treat them the same as you would any other associates in your team. Use opportunities to involve your colleagues where appropriate, value their opinions and let them know there are no awkward feelings at your end.
You’re going to have enough on your plate getting to grips with your new role so I imagine this issue will quickly lose gravity in any case.
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