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Learn to navigate key career transitions

By Paula Broadbent

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I was chatting to a fellow runner recently, while on our regular 5km route, about my work in helping individuals switch jobs. They expressed the frustration they experience when their organisation changes their role from underneath them. This led me to think about transitions coaching being useful for individuals to navigate organisational change, not just those undertaking key career moves.

Moving up requires a switch, not just adding to your to-do list

When thinking about transitions at work, the conversation often turns to the crucial position changes within a person's career, when they move from one type of role to another. A typical example is that brilliant salesperson who becomes the sales leader or the technical expert moving into the general manager position.

The whole concept of ‘what got you here, won’t get you there’ rears its head. Those stepping up must realise that it's not just about adding more activities and responsibilities onto their to-do list. It's as much about what you leave behind as what you pick up to make sure it’s a success and not a burn out in-waiting.

Organisational strategy also undergoes transitions

At an organisational level, strategy also moves through transition cycles. Companies are often caught in a loop and move from one strategic approach to the next: growth vs. contraction, long vs. short-termism, centralisation vs. devolution of decision making... All of these states demand something different from the workforce. What makes you a star in one case, may make you an under-performer in another.

The stages of preparation, reality and stabilisation 

Each time we make a transition, whether driven by a planned career move or an organisational shift, ideally we experience in turn the fundamental stages of preparation, reality and adjustment followed by a period of stabilisation. This is where we catch our breath.

In real-life these personal career and organisational change transitions often overlap, resulting in recurring states of change. This means the process is not as smooth as anticipated and is often short-circuited by repeated middle stages of facing a new reality and the adjustment that follows, without the preparation or stabilisation time to get your head fully into the new state of play.

Any period of transition has a fundamental impact at varying different levels on how people feel about themselves and their work. When short-circuited in this way, its effect is tenfold. Recognising the destabilising nature of transition is key to helping people through, and out the other side.

The personal impact of change

Moving through times of change or transition results in certain shifts in individuals' self-esteem, identity and agency; their capacity to act independently. It introduces a period of personal uncertainty which can affect how we perceive our self-worth and contribution and challenge how we see ourselves. Not being able to have a say in the transition can take away any feeling of control over our lives and our destiny. How we feel about what’s happening is key to its ultimate success. If we choose to make the move that’s one thing, but if we feel less in control about the changes at hand we are at risk of feeling helpless. Those who feel this way naturally keep their heads down, take no risks and ultimately look for an opportunity to leave the organisation.

Setting out on the optimal route

Being aware of how it feels for an individual to move through transition is so important. Mutual trust and respect must be at the core of how organisations manage this. Trust in senior management is key. Good reasons need to be clearly articulated for changes that are proposed and subsequently made and a consistent and predictable approach needs to be taken to enforce this message. Paying attention to people’s concerns and allowing them to feel like they have a real say is crucial, some agency in their situation can also reduce fear and increase trust.

Transition coaching goes a long way to helping along the way. Cranfield’s general management programmes help to provide individuals with the key skills and knowledge they need to navigate key career transitions. These are the same skills they’ll need for the constant navigation of organisational change they’re bound to face in their day-to-day work.

Prepare for your next career transition with Cranfield

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