“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” – Charles Darwin
Transitions in your senior team are an opportunity for both individuals and organisations to grow. Whether an employee is transitioning from one role to another within your company, or moving to another job, it’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure the transition goes well.
Nevertheless, with any transition comes a degree of uncertainty and disruption. Company culture can be undermined, leading to personal conflicts, communication bottlenecks, and employee resistance. In extreme cases, a company’s core values and mission may be jeopardised. However, with proper management, transitions can be an opportunity for company-wide learning and business growth.
Unfortunately, many executives changing roles struggle to adapt. Research by McKinsey senior partners Scott Keller and Mary Meaney revealed that 75 percent of executives consider themselves unprepared for a position because of inadequate onboarding processes (1).
The fact is, many companies fail to develop plans for managing organisational transitions. The process isn’t always straightforward, but with the right approach you can ensure transitions run smoothly, making the process of change easier for everyone involved.
Preparing for Change
In the face of potential resistance, it’s incumbent on leaders to alleviate uncertainty by clearly outlining future plans. As change management expert Sarah Clayton articulates: “Few things are more important during a change event than communication from leaders who can paint a clear and confidence-inspiring vision of the future.” (2)
Humans are naturally resistant to change due to an inherent fear of the unknown, but arming employees with information is not only empowering, it’s essential for any movement toward change. According to a 2019 IBM Watson Media survey, 72 percent of employees questioned did not fully understand their company’s strategy, and 58 percent wished they had better insight into the company’s next steps (3).
This is why – before and during times of change – leaders need to clearly define future plans to the entire workforce. This allows for discussion around transitions and is an opportunity to gather feedback from various teams. Employees need to know what changes to expect, why the changes are happening, and what impact – if any – they will have on their jobs. Transparency will help to maintain a culture of trust, boost employee morale and engagement, and also mitigate resistance to change.
Meeting with individuals in roles most affected by a transition is also key, and serves two purposes. First, employees will get a chance to ask questions, which can help alleviate concerns. Second, it will help you identify team members who are more capable of handling transitions. Don’t forget these individuals, as they will be more able to communicate the benefits of change to other workers who are naturally skeptical of any kind of reform. Employees or new hires transitioning into new roles should also meet with these individuals to discuss priorities and plans, and identify possible issues that may arise during the transition process.
Acknowledging Organisational Culture
One of the most common reasons why people assigned to new roles struggle during a transition is because they don’t fit in with the company culture. According to McKinsey and Company, 68 percent of transitions fail or break down due to issues related to politics, culture, and people (4).
It’s a challenge that can affect both new hires and those who have been promoted, who may not have realised how much the management culture differs from the culture in their previous role. Leaders can help those moving into new roles by defining cultures that exist across the company and showing them how their style may or may not fit in with the status quo.
Some leaders choose to assign a business coach to new senior team members to help them find ways to adjust and respond to specific business cultures. An effective leader or business mentor will also solicit feedback from other employees to determine how the individual in the new role can nurture more effective working relationships with key team members.
Often, new leaders need to reestablish relationships to build their credibility. This involves initiating conversations with new peers and demonstrating a willingness to take on board other points of view. Whether it’s over lunch or at a team meeting, the main goal is to gain a sense of different departments’ cultures and learn how different people approach work and simply interact. When possible, incoming leaders should also be given the opportunity to learn from the experiences of outgoing leaders. For example, what techniques did they employ, and why?
Making the Most of Exit Interviews
In cases where an employee transitions to a new company, there are various reasons why this may happen. Not all exits are acrimonious, but even when they are, employers should capitalise on the situation by conducting exit interviews with departing staff members.
Exit interviews are a valuable opportunity to obtain candid feedback. The information you gain can be used to address potential organisational issues, fine-tune job descriptions, and review benefits packages. It’s important to take this feedback seriously, because it’s a rare opportunity to gain valuable insights into your company that current staff may be reluctant to share.
To make the process less daunting, a human resources representative should conduct exit interviews in private. The questions should be on the general side and open ended to allow the departing employee to speak their mind. What did the individual like and dislike about the company? Do they have any specific recommendations for making the organisation a better place to work? Also, consider offering a written or digital questionnaire if the departing individual is reluctant to conduct an in-person interview; the answers they provide may be more honest and detailed than if they were talking to a person in real time.
Crucially, pay close attention to any issues that have also been raised in previous exit interviews. The most serious issues should be addressed immediately to maintain the loyalty of existing staff. Accept the feedback you receive without judgement; these interviews will ultimately help you improve your organisation.
Nurturing the Transition Process
Before considering how leaders can support transitions, it’s important to note that in any organisation, everyone should be working together to make the company as successful as it can be. Employees should be reminded that they all play a part in the success of a transition, and that progress will be monitored to see who has been helpful. That being said, leaders should still make the effort to champion new roles and promote the need for change.
Human resources and management should also collaborate to arrange introductions for employees in new roles. Being given a mentor or the opportunity to shadow outgoing employees will also help new team members build relationships with relevant team members.
Encourage honest conversations between other leaders about what is working well and what needs to change, and provide ongoing support to those in new roles. Scheduling regular meetings is important, especially in the first few weeks of a transition. Finding enough time can be difficult, but these meetings are vital. Focus on plans, people, goals, and results. Honest feedback is essential, especially when it comes to how other people are engaging with the process. There should be no surprises further down the line.
Employees in new roles should be encouraged to actively build relationships with new colleagues across all relevant departments. They should solicit feedback from colleagues in order to address potential issues before they become a real problem, and adjust their strategies accordingly.
During the first few months in a new role, people are in learning mode. They’ll face numerous challenges, gathering information along the way. Making an impact can take time, so it’s important to give people a certain amount of freedom to test the waters and refine strategies.
If someone isn’t performing well in the role, provide tools and resources to help them improve. Internal or external training might be necessary to improve their knowledge and skills, but ensuring their attitude is aligned with your business’s values and goals is also crucial.
Try to get to the root cause of any issues that surface, before making any major decisions. Speak with individuals, encouraging them to be honest about their expectations in the new role. If they’re a valued employee, uncovering the underlying issue is an important first step. You can then take practical steps to get them back on track, which may require support from other team members.
Lastly, people in new leadership positions often seek inspiration from role models during the course of their transition, so it’s important to lead by example. To ease transitions, demonstrate leadership through honest communication, confident decision making, and clear guidance. Remain calm in the face of challenging circumstances, and when certain goals are achieved, make sure they are celebrated or at least acknowledged.
Managing Transitions: An Opportunity for Growth
Times of transition are an opportunity to rethink priorities, nurture relationships, and find new ways to support business growth. Leaders should capitalise on these periods of change to question established processes and encourage team members to find better ways of accomplishing tasks.
There is always going to be a level of uncertainty when individuals move from one role to another, but the process doesn’t have to be chaotic. Managing transitions is about making a difficult process less stressful and disruptive for everyone involved. To enable the progression of capable individuals, employers need to have a flexible approach, but the entire process should hinge on clear communication, respectful collaboration, and constant vigilance.
If the change is handled well, it will enhance the performance of individual employees and everyone around them. And this will ultimately improve team morale, optimise productivity, and strengthen the business itself.