How to Handle Getting Layered at Work

January 28, 2013 4 Comments

Italian Rainbow CookiesThings are awesome at work until that dreadful day your boss (with whom you have an awesome relationship) tells you “Hey, I’ve hired a new person who will be reporting to me and you’ll now report to that person.”  You’ve officially been layered and we all know getting layered is only good if we’re talking about cake.

Your head likely swirls at first wondering why this happened.  “Does the boss not like me anymore?  Why didn’t the boss put me in that role instead of bringing in someone new?  Are they bringing in the new person to replace me and the next step is I’m getting fired?  My team is going to lose respect for me and I’ll lose influence in the organization.”

We have a tendency to go to negative and neurotic places.  I know that – I’ve been layered before as have many of my friends and colleagues.  And I know many of you dread it based on the recent SmartBrief on Leadership Pulse Survey I conducted.  42% of respondents said getting layered was more awkward than a peer becoming your boss or you becoming the boss of your peers.

Getting layered (or, if you’re the boss, layering members of your team) isn’t what’s important.  What’s important is how we handle getting layered or layering our team.  Do it wrong and your new boss will resent you, your old boss (now another layer above you) will be disappointed and frustrated, and your team will lose respect for you.  If you’re the boss, if you handle layering members of your team wrong you’ll alienate them, frustrate them, and lead them to look for new job opportunities where they’ll feel appreciated (plus you’re setting up your shiny new hire up for failure).  So how should you handle these situations?  Allow me to offer some thoughts.

You Just Got Layered

Your boss introduces you to your new boss.  You’ve fallen back a rung on the corporate ladder and you’re upset (somewhat justifiably so).  If you don’t handle this transition gracefully, your new boss will likely see you as a threat especially because you have a good relationship with the big boss.  Take a breath and try the following:

1. Let your new boss know you fully support them.  Acknowledge the discomfort and concerns up front.  “Hey, I know you’re my new boss and I fully support helping you be successful.  I know it’s a little weird that I used to report to Bill but now you report to him but I don’t want you to have any concerns that I’ll go behind your back to Bill or anything like that.  The way I see it, if you’re successful, I’m successful.”  Then live up to supporting them.  Don’t you dare go behind their back to the big boss just because you have a good relationship there.  There’s no faster way to build mistrust with your new boss than doing something like that.

2. Learn from your new boss.  They were hired for a reason.  They probably possess skills you lack (otherwise you would have gotten the position).  Figure out what they bring to the table and learn as much as you possibly can from them.  Think about it this way – if they leave the organization (or if Bill leaves and your new boss takes Bill’s role) you’ll be well-positioned to advance into that bigger role.  If you fail to better yourself and learn from your new boss, you’re just going to get layered again.

3. Be a resource for your new boss. Let them know you’re happy to help them succeed.  You know Bill better than your new boss does.  Tell them you’re happy to help them understand Bill, how he does things, what he wants, and how he thinks.  Let your new boss know you’re a valuable resource for helping them build their own relationship with Bill.  In making this offer, you’re demonstrating a great deal of maturity, professionalism, and courtesy.  You’re also increasing your own value to your new boss, to Bill, and to the organization.

You’re Doing the Layering

It’s a tough decision bringing in a new team member and having your existing direct reports now report to someone new.  Do it right and you’ll have strengthened your team.  Do it wrong and you can cause an exodus of talent.  I’m pretty sure you’d prefer the former so here are a few ways to get headed down that path.

1. Tell your current direct reports what’s happening and why.  Authenticity is key here the same way being an authentic leader requires you to know who you are and what your standards are (and to learn how to do that, I strongly advise following the method laid out in my book).  Do it in face to face, one on one meetings.  Explain your rationale for the reorganization, let them know why you’re bringing in someone new, explain what that person brings to the table, and let the person know they’re still valued by you and the organization.  Don’t be a coward and have the new boss explain things to your people.  There’s no faster way to build resentment.  You’ve made a decision to bring on someone new.  The least you can do is own it and show your people the respect of explaining it to them and understanding their concerns with the change.

2. Set clear expectations.  Tell your team members that you expect them to fully support their new boss and that you won’t tolerate them going around the new boss to get to you.  They need to know that’s your expectation and you need to enforce that new standard of behavior.  If they come to you, ask if they’ve spoken to their boss already.  If the answer is no, you need to tell them to go talk with their boss about the issue first.

3. Show your appreciation.  Pay attention to how your team members are supporting their new boss (or not supporting them for that matter).  Acknowledge positive behaviors and tell them you appreciate their support and professionalism in bringing on the new boss.  If you see dysfunctional and unsupportive behavior, nip it in the bud and set your people straight on the standard.  You owe it to them as well as your new hire to make sure the team falls into line.

The bottom line is layering is always difficult but if you focus on setting standards, putting the organization first, and acknowledging good behavior, the new boss and the rest of the team will be humming along quite nicely before you know it.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

– Can you give me 5 minutes of your time to provide some feedback on our blog in a quick survey?  I’m picking some respondents at random to win a FREE COPY of the AudioTech summary of my book One Piece of Paper!  It’s 10 quick questions and I would really value your feedback.  Thanks!

– If you want to build the bonds of trust with your existing team members as well as your shiny new hire, grab a copy of my book One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership or download the audiobook version at It will help you articulate your standards and expectations quickly and clearly.

P.S. Those are Italian rainbow cookies in the picture.  They are truly the cake of the gods.  You can only get real ones in New York.  If you ever see them in the store, just buy them.  You’ll be glad you did.  They’re my personal favorite on the face of the Earth.

4 Responses to “How to Handle Getting Layered at Work”

  1. RJ Bradner says:

    Well stated! After 4 decades of the corporate world, I can tell you this is spot-on advice. It is refreshing to see it all in one place. Thank you.

  2. Anon says:

    I’ve been layered and did everything mentioned in the article. In retrospect I should have quit. This is not a good sign for your career. Move on.

  3. Anonymous says:

    If you are being layered without organizational growth (the company is growing and your manager is taking on a larger role), it’s time to start looking for a new place of employment.

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