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  • Writer's pictureAlan Shoebridge

What you are overlooking about a career change – part two

I recently took a new job in a new state at a new organization. During the next few months, I will share some of the knowledge that I pick up along the way. Although this advice might seem obvious at times, I think there are many areas that simply don't get the attention they deserve. Case in point for today's blog: transition planning.

Change is exhausting: Don't ignore the need for a good transition strategy

This week marks 60 days with my new organization, and the past two months have felt like a rollercoaster ride at times. Some of the highs and lows were expected while others came as surprises.

In less than two months, my wife and I quit our jobs, sold a house, rented a temporary apartment,

shuttled back and forth between two states, packed up all our possessions, found and leased a new house, and unpacked our possessions as part of the transition from where I worked for 11 years, and lived for almost two decades, to a whole new life in Southern California. Oh, and my car got rear-ended by a police officer, I saw a bear walking on the side of the freeway and I got passed by a motorhome being pursued by the police.

All of that didn’t even include time spent learning a new organization, meeting my new team and exploring a different community! Looking back, it was no mystery why I felt so tired at the end of each day and was falling asleep by 9 p.m.

Although you might not be dealing with all of those factors, I’m sure at least a few of them will be in play. Here are some strategies to get ahead of your transition and survive – or better yet, thrive – during the first few months.

Develop a plan

After accepting my employment offer and fully coming to grips with what that truly entailed, I started thinking about how to best hit the ground running. I found an excellent resource in The First 90 Days by Michael D. Watkins. Some of the suggestions to follow come from the book while others are drawn solely from my own personal experience. Having a plan is especially important if you’ve been at your existing organization for some time and haven’t given any thought to onboarding since you were hired.

Set aside time for learning

In basic terms, the framework Watkins puts forward calls for you to set aside 30 days for learning, 30 days for evaluating what you learn and 30 days for executing short-term changes and developing a long-term plan. During the learning period, you should spend your time getting to know your boss, team and key partners. Doing so will help you assess what type of situation you find yourself in: start-up, realignment, turnaround or sustaining success. From there you can set expectations with your boss and agree on the path forward.

Overall, I’ve found this framework – with its emphasis on learning – to be extremely helpful. However, I think the timing of doing everything in 90 days is challenging and might even be impossible to achieve depending on the size, scope and complexity of your organization. To accomplish everything in three months, you basically need to be completely free of distractions, personal problems or scheduling complications. My advice here is to embrace the core essentials of the 90-day framework, but adjust the timing to be realistic for your situation once you start putting it in place.

Make personal-life transitions quickly

One assertion in the book that I strongly agree with is that you need to transition your personal life as soon as possible. For example, the author cites several cases of couples who tried to live in separate states and complicated their career transitions, ultimately leading to failure. I know life is complex and this advice can be challenging to accept, but I realized that trying to work in one place and live in two places was not going to be productive. Having a permanent place to call home allows you to be fully present in your new career. When you make that commitment, there is no easily available “eject button” to think about hitting when the going gets tough.

Take time to decompress

As I mentioned earlier, I found the transition process – especially the first month or so – to be mentally exhausting. You are absorbing a tremendous amount of information and everything is a new experience. Perhaps, you’re also traveling for meetings and getting to know people located in other states or countries. Setting aside time to relax and not think about work is crucial during this juncture. It’s unlikely that you’ll have any vacation time right away, but you can and should make the most of your nights and weekends.

Cut yourself some slack

Another concept in the book I related to was that you hit a point of delivering more value to your - organization – as opposed to needing support and requiring time for learning – about six months into your new role. From that point on you (ideally) keep growing and adding value while the amount of investment the company needs to make for you to be productive continues to decline. Again, you might need to adjust the timeframe a bit, but I think this is essentially correct and a good measuring stick. Each week, I feel that I’m adding more value overall as I better understand the issues, people and business goals. However, it feels like an incremental process, and I would advise you to regard it as a warning sign if you find yourself thinking that you’ve got everything all figured out and under control in the first month.

Adjust your expectations

Expanding on the theme above, I’ve always counseled people not to make any final pronouncements about their new positions or organizations until they’ve been in their role for at least six months. Yes, there might be some things that don’t make sense or aren’t clear improvements from what you were doing before. At the six-month mark, take stock of all that and evaluate everything. If on balance things don’t feel right, that’s when it’s time to re-evaluate your decision or simply make some tweaks to your plan.



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