Sunday, September 5, 2010

Career Transition: The Key to Success

“Life isn’t a dress rehearsal” though, occasionally, we probably wish that it was. We have to be constantly alert to see the opportunities that exist and grab the ones we want before they pass us by, (Kerry Packer).

In respect of careers, there are two key steps, firstly finding the right opportunity, either within your existing organisation or elsewhere, and then making a successful transition into the new job.

While keeping alert for your next opportunity and when planning the transition, it helps to know yourself first, “knowing whether you tend to be left-brained, the logical arithmetic type who likes formal structured activities, or right-brained who is more intuitive and relies more on the feel and sense of a situation. This all has a good deal to do with the type of organisation you will be more comfortable with,” (Kanter, 2003, p.45)

A 2009 survey found that “87% of the 143 senior HR professionals who responded either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement – ‘transitions into significant new roles are the most challenging times in the professional lives of managers’. Further, 70% agreed or strongly agreed that – ‘success or failure during the transition period is a strong predictor of overall success or failure in the job,” (Watkins, 2009, 47).

Michael Watkins found that “leaders in transition reflexively rely on the skills and strategies that worked for them in the past; after all, their previous successes are what propelled them to the new opportunity,” (p.48) – yet Andrew and Valerie Stewart remind us that the relationship between performance and potential is not a simple one; and that the best performers are not necessarily those of high potential. Promotion solely on the basis of past performance almost inevitably leads to promotion to the person’s level of incompetence.

Transition isn’t just challenging for senior roles, it’s challenging for any job change, where part of the problem in preparing for the transition is finding the time to plan and also knowing what to plan for. Kanter (2003) suggests that you set yourself four to six success criteria that link to your new objectives. But transition isn’t just about performance objectives, it involves getting to know the people, the new teams you’ll be operating with, the expectations from different individuals in the organisation and creating the right first impression – as you don’t get a second chance at a first impression.

There are pros and cons of promotion and transition from within and some may think internal transition is easier than transition from the outside. Yet the problem with internal transition is that your reputation precedes you, which can be good (or not) – especially if the new role requires you to manage personnel that were previously you friends and colleagues. The problem is that the person being promoted, often assumes that since they got on well with their team while they were part of it, the team will automatically accept them as their new boss – which, if not planned as part of your transition, can be your first big mistake (and one that you may not recover from). With internal promotions you must plan a detailed communication strategy as part of your transition to discuss your expectations and those of your team.

Transition into a new role is critical at any level as it set’s the ‘tone’ for your future – a poor transition is likely to lead to a less than optimal future. During your first few weeks you should establish priorities, define strategic intent, engage with your new team, identify your internal suppliers and customers, identify where you can achieve short-term successes in line with your goals and objectives, and meet and greet all your key collaborative partners, inside and outside the organisation (Watkins, 2009).

Don’t take your future career opportunities for granted; and when they come, remember to plan your transition carefully to make sure that your next job is a resounding success.


Kanter, J. (2003). Planning and Managing Your Career. Information Strategy: The Executive Journal, Vol. 19, Issue 2, p.43-48.

Watkins, M.D. (2009). Picking the Right Transition Strategy. Harvard Business Review, Vol. 87, Issue 1, p.46-53.

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