The evil predecessor strikes again....

Once again I struggle to figure out how my predecessor made a mess, and trying to figure out how she lasted in her position so long! I started here in May, very excited, only to learn that she left me with nothing! No notes on how she handled things, normal day to day stuff I should expect. She disappeared with our original 401(k) and pension plan document...and to top it off, she even took her rolodex! How am I supposed to know anything?

Anyway, the point of my post (other than to vent) is that I have a question for everyone. Have you ever walked into a new position where everything was in chaos and you didn't know where to start? How did you handle it?

I need guidance before I scream! x:'(



  • 16 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • Step out of your office, visualize lobbing a stick of dynamite into the center of your office, take a deep breath and start cleaning up. Make sure you talk to everyone with whom this person worked and pump them for information on what they know about how she handled things. Make lists of tasks and processes you need to reconstruct procedures for or establish procedures for, and make the list as you think of it, so you don't forget anything. And don't get discouraged.
  • >I need guidance before I scream! x:'(

    Go for it, Girl!!! A good scream is a cleansing thing. After that, follow Para's pointers for recovery; (however, I suggest avoiding the temptation to toss the dynamite part).

  • Well, I meant an imaginary stick of dynamite, you understand.x;-)
  • And if you are feeling really mean (after that well earned scream), have the attorney call her at a present job and leave a message DEMANDING the original 401k and pension plan documents which she took without permission(that is as far as my tact goes)from her previous employer. If you're not feeling mean, have the attorney call and ASK her for the original 401k and pension plan documents that belong to her former employer.
  • Aingram - I was in your situation a little over a year ago so I can relate. The "take a deep breath" advice is great and so is talking to others who worked with her. Be prepared to get alot of complaints and find out things probably weren't done as they should have been (I got ALOT of that). Then look to your past experience, as well as the expectations from your boss, to get an idea of what needs to be done. Going through her computer may prove useful (I know I had to go searching for alot of things). Take things one step at a time and try not to get too discouraged (or frustrated). Oh, one last thing, plan to spend some significant time cleaning up her mess (sorry!).

    As for the 401(k)and pension plan information, the financial institution should have copies of the current SPDs.
  • [font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED ON 07-02-03 AT 01:13PM (CST)[/font][p]I think we've all experienced what you're going through at one time in our careers. You get to the point where you're scared to ask another question because it just turns up more problems.

    Call whomever administers your 401(k) and pension and ask them to meet with you. They'll be champing at the bit to help you because they are always afraid that the new HR person will change providers. Explain to them that no one can locate the original documents so ask that they bring you copies. Ask them to update you on what you would need to know about both plans immediately and to make you aware of any pending issues or proposed changes that have been discussed. That should bring you up to speed quickly.

    Then as Parabeagle suggested above, make a list of everything that needs doing as you become aware of it and prioritize. Those that create liability for your organization go to the top of the list - like not having AAP's when you should, legal training for supervisors and managers if they seem to be doing things that they shouldn't.

    Make you boss aware that you "have discovered several things that your predesessor didn't do." Say it exactly like that and resist the urge to take a shot at her. They'll respect you for it and will admire your restraint. Explain that you are working through those things, handing the most costly or impactful things first. You might send him/her your list weekly with status updates so he/she appreciates the magnitude of the clean-up. You might also assign a dollar value to each task if it goes undone so your organization begins to understand your worth. For example, if you decide to do legal training for supervisors, the average cost if you lose one of those lawsuits is $200K ($2.5M in California). Cost to defend (whether you win or lose) is between $50K and $100K). That should get their attention!

    As Parabeagle says, just keep working the list until it's manageable. Look at anything you can outsource because although you have the ability to do most of them, you don't have the time. (I know it's self serving as a consultant, but that's why many HR people use consultants.) There's a reason the first six months is called the "honeymoon period." It's the time to ask for resources and be most likely to get them, especially when the company sees the cost for not taking care of these issues.

    Last, but not least, you chose a great opportunity for yourself. Obviously, the person before you wasn't very good. You will become the person who saved the day as you clean up the mess. Keep us posted on your progress and ask for anything we can do to help you.

    And if all the above fails, check out all the drink recipes in the next section!

    Margaret Morford
  • [font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED ON 07-02-03 AT 01:16PM (CST)[/font][p]At my last job I think I walked into a black hole. The last fulltime ee in the position was terminated after messing up for two years and the position remained open for a year. Temps had filled in during that time and everything slipped further into the abyss. There were no formal written procedures to follow and none of the 10,000 plus files were in order. Slowly but surely after about a year everything started have some semblance again.

    Remember there is a light at the end of the tunnel, just hang in there. Think of it this way, it is almost like starting from scratch. Everything can be
    done your way now.

    Also remember to keep in close contact with your friends in the filed they can be a useful resource!!!!!

    PS: Get those documents back, they are company property and you will need them.
  • [font size="1" color="#FF0000"]LAST EDITED ON 07-02-03 AT 01:16PM (CST)[/font][p]The company I work for today bought out my previous employer 5 years ago. The orginal employer did not believe in HR. They had an AA doing clerical work only. The new employer insisted that a key element of the acquisition was to establish an HR department and I was chosen to lead the charge. I inherited the AA who was not happy that she no longer reported to the GM - fortunately we got along OK, but she never went out of her way to help either. So, in essence, my job was to build an HR department from virtual scratch. It was hard at first, people were used to doing things however they wanted without involving HR. It was an educational process. One step at a time.
  • Oh yes! This has happened to me several times. This last time, there were no written policies and procedures, no salary structures or scales, no one knew what the heck FMLA was or how to process it, the files were in chaos. There was no HRIS system - the former HR person had somewhat deleted it. So...all this had to be built from scratch.

    The first thing I did was organize my office. I threw out all the crap(including a collection of coffee mugs - hee hee) that had accumulated and had nothing to do with HR. I also had the maintenance man paint my walls and clean the carpet that looked like it had never been cleaned. With nice surroundings, I started slowly, but surely putting things together the way they should be. I sort of looked at it as starting a new company and doing it my way. I had the support and respect of my CEO which helped tremendously. It took a solid year of very hard work to get processes and procedures in place to run smoothly, but it was worth it.

    Every job I have ever left, I have tried to leave in good hands for the next person and at least catch up on all the loose ends so stepping into a new position wouldn't be so painful. Unfortunately, any HR job I have gone into, it seems was left a mess by the predecessor.

    If I am ever tempted to leave my job...I just remind myself what I would probably have to go through again and am so very glad that I am where I am today.

    Good will take some time and mucho energy, but you will survive!
  • I am in a similiar situation with ya! I have been in my current job for only 3 months, but I have spent all that time cleaning up messes! Previously, HR was really just a side job for the AA. Nothing was followed through on, employee files were, well, UGH!!!! She retired and left a huge mess to clean up. My first day was like walking into the fire! I did my own orientation and paperwork! I am fairly new to HR (only out of college 3 years) and this was was my first HR Manager position. The hardest part is that I am it! I do not have any "team" (though all the folks I work with are wonderful) that I can bounce ideas, suggestions off of. I have been doing a lot of research, refreshers, and calling friends in HR and begging!

    I have found that stepping back and breathing works well! Also, screaming helps too.

    It is nice to know that others have the same issues!
  • I've been there, done that.

    I agree with all the sage advice that has already been given - make lists, keep your CEO up to date, prioritize, and occasionally vent when a surprise jumps up and bites you.

    One more thing that I found out. I had always been a "do it myself" kind of person, but when I was in this situation, I relied heavily on my brokers and agents of the benefits to help out with paperwork, tracking down documents, researching questions, and responding to employees who needed help. As I think Margaret said, they anticipate that you will want to change vendors - so they will be VERY helpful to you. Use them. It works.

    Also, utilize HR Forum and other peers to avoid reinventing the wheel on P&P.

    Lastly, realize that you won't get this done in a month. Not even in three months. Probably it will take a year before you can breath easily. My first time in this situation I stressed myself to the max because I wanted it all done immediately. This time, I allowed myself to prioritize and work through things - which made it a lot better.

    Good luck. You will be so amazed in a year how far you have come.


    P.S. Keep us up to date on things you need.
  • Sounds like most of us, if not all of us, have been in your shoes!

    When I left my last job, I left for the new HR person a synopsis of everything that was pending. I also created a procedure binder that included details of everything I did. The new HR person would call me at my new job to ask questions, which was fine, but it was always something I'd already put in the binder or synopsis. I finally mentioned this to her, and she said "OH THAT! I never read it!" (huuuuuge sigh)

    At my new job, I had to start from scratch too. My predecessors were minimal help as they were eager to finish their obligation. (new ownership, they weren't staying) It's been almost two years now and I'm still working through some things - job descriptions last updated in 1989, interview forms didn't exist, performance eval forms not updated in ages, supervisors who don't believe in progressive discipline (why can't we just fire them?) blah blah blah

    The exciting part was: I could do it all the way that I wanted it done. The hard part was - HR was not a department many people saw as being trustworthy or even interested in anything beyond administering payroll and benefits. That is something I still feel I need to prove on a daily basis - that I care and am in it for the long haul, and my every day actions need to reflect that.

    Sure is hard to be (relatively) new when I used to be one of the most senior employees. The one thing I didn't think about when I accepted the new position was in their eyes, I am the new guy. I had to find my place all over again. It was (still is) hard. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
  • My predecessor.....

    My predecessor.....

    My predecessor.....

    xflash Sorry, I keep trying to remember what if anything she did.

    I agree with previous statements, it usually takes about 2-3 years to breathe a sigh of relief. Starting over or from scratch is not easy, but you can create a department that you like from the ground up. Proving yourself to your new employer is not easy, but it too can be done with determination and a heck of a sense of humor. Hang in there - at least you know you're not alone! Good luck!
  • You are definitely not alone! We are a two person HR team, and after three years of working together we are still cleaning up the messes left by our predecessor. I don't think he was evil, just incredibly uninformed, but if I ever catch him, he has a merciless beating coming! I get overwhelmed and confused a lot by all the regs and laws and that darned fine line that keeps moving all the time! Just take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are doing your best, learning a lot, and making a positive contribution to your company. If all else fails, try the primal scream and have a beer after work.

  • Isn't it a blessing this Employers' Forum?
    Have a restful weekend!


  • I've been in my current job for a little over two years now, following a long history of very short-lived "HR" people, many of whom were actually office managers, accounting people, and one was even a procurement person primarily! This plant has been around since before Lincoln was president (I kid you not!), so "mess" doesn't even begin to describe what I walked into.

    I initially had thought to just jettison the "crap", but I ran into an unusual stumbling block - the HR administrative assistant, although only in her mid-thirties, has been here for 15 years and is very protective of every piece of paper in every file drawer in the department!

    Anyway, a month ago, they moved me out of my office temporarily to rip out the walls and get rid of a disturbing quantity of mold growing behind them. I took this opportunity to order all new file cabinets, for both my office and the HR administrative assistant's, and forced us both to either trash or archive everything that wasn't current, and organize the stuff that was current, before we moved back in. (We also had the walls painted in colors other than white, and put up border paper for a less "utilitarian" look.)

    Wow - I feel like a whole new person! Now, I wish I could get my spouse to help me do the same thing at home!

    Hang in there - it comes together eventually!
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