Transitions are Not for Sucks

Every year about 25% of managers change jobs. Some promoted up, some sideways and some transitioning into new companies. Virtually no one plans a transition strategy and as such, 75% of transitions fail to reap expected gains. “John looked so promising, but he’s barely surviving like the last guy” is a common observation. In addition to the 25% of managers changing jobs yearly, a March 2009 study and Sept 2009 study by CareerBuilder.com (Robert Half) cited 55% and 45%, respectively, of staff plan to leave the company after the economy improves (either for a new company or return to school). You want to leave a positive impact during your era in the company or role, not a failed transition.

If you’re like me, you’ve read a number of business books and successful business leaders’ biographies.  We invariably assimilate some of these/their best traits into our behaviour and practices, behaviours and practices that mesh nicely with our own to make us better managers.  But have you ever studied the process of integrating yourself into a new company, or new role within your company?  The vast majority would answer “ah,… no”. Compared to business books on other practices, there are surprisingly limited resources on this topic.  The result is a roller coaster called Hopson transition curve.

I would even bet your HR department understands very little about transition management or the transition curve, let alone even addressing transitions, focusing instead on the easy and comfortable administrivia of inserting the new hire into the company’s HR, payroll, benefit systems and introducing you around.  HR departments are overwhelmingly “reactive” in their nature to transition problems.  If something is going awry with the new manager, you/they hit the crisis point, then HR’s called in.

Why study transitions?
Every less senior member (self included) can remember criticizing the new idiots at the helm (if you’re one of my ex-managers reading this, I wasn’t referring to you – you were the exception).  We criticized their decisions, their tactics, their people skills, their approaches to problems.  If you don’t study how to transition successfully, you become one of those idiots.

Transition Management as a Differentiator
There are plenty of solid business books and university/college courses on Business Management, but very few on transitions.

Many organizations provide new hires with a one-day orientation session, in hopes to acclimatize you to their (your new) company.  The event is treated as a necessary evil and is at best, a feel-good measure by HR.  One company that does excel in management training is GE.  If you’ve read Good to Great, you know that many GE trained managers have gone on to become heads of major companies.  So planning and training for transition does work.
Like most, you learned to do transitions the hard way, the sink or swim model.  You learned from your successes and hopefully equally from mistakes.  Much of the transition process we know and execute at a subconscious level, is never put into a transition plan, a transition framework.  After studying the topic, my recommendation is to develop your own transition plan.  I am.

This is the first in a series of blog posts on the topic of Transitions.  My objective is to eliminate the valley in the transition curve.  I’ll continue writing this series and releasing logical chunks of them where there is value to you.  I hope I’ll be able to convince some HR professionals to take a serious look at transition management.

Over the 5+ years, I’ve taken a personal interest in this topic as I myself have transitioned at least 10 times in my career.  I now use this knowledge to help others transition. Best to be prepared, eh?

Transition Definition
  1. Promotion
  2. Being given staff for the first time (us managers are cleaver and don’t always call it a “promotion” to save $$)
  3. Position in new company (coming from another company or “no fixed address”)
  4. Any role change in same company
  5. Same role in same company, but new geographical location. E.g. from Toronto to Dubai
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3 thoughts on “Transitions are Not for Sucks

  1. Great writing style Rick,,,enjoyed the blog. How about another disclaimer, “I’m not a doctor but I’ll take a look anyway.”

  2. Those transition failures are consistent. If your predecessor failed, you will fail. The failure is built into the organization and the staffing of that organization.

    I remember taking a job where the hiring manager talked specifically about my predecessors failure. That manager did not talk about his own role in that failure. Working with the guy turned out to be impossible. The source of my predecessors failure was built into this manager, and into the dependencies that my predecessor’s work depended on.

    If a company is always hiring, avoid working there. If a given position is advertised again in a few weeks or a few months, avoid taking that position. If the position is advertised every two years, expect your tenure there to run for two years. Get in, stay networked, be ready to move on at the 18 month mark. Yes,it will happen to you. No matter how good you are, keep in mind that bad companies ruin good people. Bad companies also lie to themselves. It will always be your fault, and if they fire you, they will bad mouth you forever. Never find yourself in a situation where you have to take whatever if offered next. Be proactive about your career. The reactive path will turn your career into a series of jobs.

  3. Well written Rick! Much to learn from your reflection.

    Your view and experience is definitely reinforced by lots of academic work. Transformative cycle of personal change (Mezirow, 1978):
    1. A disorienting dilemma
    2. Engaging in self-examination
    3. Exploring new ways of being
    4. Building competence in new roles
    5. Reintegrating into society based on new assumptions and new perspectives

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