The pace of change is increasing all the time. As change is the norm, transitions for professionals is also the norm. How can professionals transition rapidly and with improved chances of success?
This post looks at a structured approach the transition challenge.
A Model to Accelerate Your Transition
It is a big adjustment to enter a new role. But there are predictable challenges and success factors, so a structured approach can help to accelerate your adjustment to the new situation.
This structure based in large part on “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels” by Michael D. Watson.
Here are five factors to consider up front:
- Type of Transition – Using the STaRS model, is my organization a startup, turnaround, realignment, or sustaining success?
- Learning Agenda – What technical, cultural, and political learning do you need to accomplish?
- Five Conversations – What is my agenda for ongoing conversations with my boss about situation, expectations, style, resources, and personal development?
- A-item Priorities – What are my top priorities – focusing on behavior change and securing early wins.
- Advice-and-Counsel – What advice-and-counsel network do you need?
Let’s dive deeper into each of these five factors for shaping your transition.
Factor 1: Type of Transition
Clearly identifying the type of organization – the main thrust – helps steer your actions, learning, and speed. The STaRS model identifies 4 types of organizations that most impactfully characterize the environment you are in.
- Startup – Characterized by high ambitions and eagerness, and a more generalized direction. Learning is primarily by deliberate experience – rapid cycles of action and review.
- Turnaround – Serious, immediate action is needed to preserve a core of value and cut loose the rest – to be followed by building anew around the core.
- Realignment – Things look better than they are…and change is needed. Because of a stable appearance, resistance to change can be strong. Good strategic understanding is critically valuable as a starting pint.
- Sustaining Success – Stable organization and stable environment. The idea is to keep it going with little disturbance, but monitor closely for potential changes. Make improvements where possible to strengthen and protect position.
Depending on your situation, the may be one type – or more than one. For example, you might be in a Startup…or you might be in a Sustaining Success organization that has some Startup-like units.
Factor 2: Learning Agenda
Early in you tenure in a new position, you need to identify what you need to learn. In order to cover most bases, think about what you need to learn along three dimensions:
- Technical Learning – What technical knowledge do you need to understand the issues? What technical knowledge do you need to be effective at executing your job?
- Cultural Learning – What do you understand of the cultural aspects of this organization? What don’t you understand? How can you clarify what you are not even aware of?
- Political Learning – Extending in part from the cultural, what is the political nature of the organization? Where are the power centers in terms of people and groups or coalitions?
You need to prioritize learning by determining what you need to learn and when, and balance the cost in terms of time. There will also be a balance of study and experiential learning.
The most effective way is to bring others along with you in that learning journey. It serves o bring everyone into closer alignment.
Factor 3: Five Conversations
You need to establish a relationship with your boss. This involves gaining clarity and consensus on several key areas:
- Situation – What is the current situation? What is good, what needs to change, and what is the picture for an eventual end state?
- Expectations – What are your boss’s expectations in terms of results, timing, and ongoing communication throughout the process?
- Style – What style of communication is preferred? To what degree can communication be face to face, email, phone, or virtual?
- Resources – What resources will you need? What resources can you expect to get? How will that effect efforts and outcomes?
- Personal Development – What learning is your boss expecting of you in the near, medium, and longer term related to this position? Do you both feel comfortable with the learning agenda?
These transitional conversations are not necessarily 5 distinct sit down sessions! They are ongoing dialogues that are necessary to cover the important aspects of your professional relationship in the current position. The important thing is to have discussions about each of these areas, and achieve shared clarity.
Factor 4: A-item Priorities
This is going to be a natural extension of the conversations with your boss – since your priorities need to be aligned with his/hers!
Priorities will also relate closely to the type of organization, and to the learning agenda.
The key with priorities is to identify opportunities for quick wins – to establish credibility and set the stage for further success. You need to identify the low-lying fruit – the fraction of action items that offer a substantial and visible return for limited effort, cost, and risk.
One way to approach this is to think about A-priorities in terms of the near-term, medium-term, and long-term.
Factor 5: Advice and Counsel
This is your support network within and outside the organization. You will need both. Here are some examples of each.
- Past colleagues and associates on the inside.
- Mentors, if you have any, past or present.
- People previously in the position.
- People in related organizations.
- Select stakeholders.
- Past colleagues, associates, and connections that previously worked there.
- People that might want to work there, or are working for a competitor or related industry.
- Professionals that consult or provide services to the industry.
- Alumni from your school(s).
- Your broader network.
‘Support’ can be elusive. Sometimes you are not sure who is a supporter and who is not. The best thing is to identify potential supporters and see where it goes. There will be a core of true supporters, and an outer layer that is less certain, and sometimes a non-supporter!
Implications for Strategy
Strategy itself is a big part of a transition. At the highest levels of the organization, part of the transition is determining and executing the strategy.
Even at much lower levels, there is still a smaller organization that needs a strategy and strong execution.
But apart from you being that leader…
Overall organizational strategy needs to allow for transitions at various times throughout the organization. The idea is to allow some flexibility in how to execute an overall strategy at the local level so that adjustments can be made.
Issues that will arise over time will probably relate to:
- Issues with the strategy – Sometimes the overall strategy needs to be revisited and reconsidered. More often detailed adjustments for specific situations need to be made.
- Issues with implementation – Most often, transitions are very intensive on how to execute. Managers change because a different approach to execution is needed.
Strategy needs to be generalized enough to allow for adjusting as you go – either to the strategy itself, or to the execution.
Implications for Managing Projects
For a project manager, each project is a new transition. It is essentially starting in a new position. This structured approach for transition applies!
And whenever a new project starts, many other people – team members and stakeholders particularly – begin their own transition. Project managers can help with a structured approach to this.
Think about the new project in terms of the five factors forming the structure for a transition:
- Type of Transition – Think about the context of the project. Is it part of a startup, turnaround, realignment, or sustaining success?
- Learning Agenda – Does the project address a particular technical, cultural, or political issue? Are there particular technical, cultural, or political issues to be considered for planning the project implementation?
- Five Conversations – What is the operational context within which you are working in terms of strategic conversations about situation, expectations, style, resources, and personal development? How do those influence your approach to conversations with your stakeholders?
- A-item Priorities – What are the top priorities right now in the environment? What does that say for your own prioritizing for early demonstrable wins on your project?
- Advice-and-Counsel – What is your own support network for the project? Can you piggyback on networks round the organization?
Projects distinctly begin and end…so transition is a major part of project management. Taking a structured approach to transition can be helpful in accelerating progress and delivering the best results.
Conclusion and Further Resources
This post looked at a structured framework for professionals transitioning into a new position. It looked at the influence of the type of organization, approach to learning, needed conversations with management and stakeholders, setting priorities, and putting into place a solid support network. Then it looked at strategic ramifications of the framework, and implications for project managers.
What is your experience with transitions, and do you think such a structured approach can help?
See the Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, “Picking the Right Transition Strategy” by Michael D. Watson.
This post was based in large part on “The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels” (paid link) by Michael D. Watson.
The following is a related video by Michael D Watkins on “Major Career Transitions”.