Five Steps for Successfully Transitioning to a New Job

Mapping out priorities when starting a new job can ease stress and help you hit the ground running.

By Susan Cramm
Thu, February 01, 2007

CIO — The very nature of starting a new job jeopardizes the chances of a successful, or at least smooth, transition. In a time when you need to be at your best, you feel the greatest anxiety—anxiety that impairs your judgment and social skills.

Your anxiety is well-founded because you understand the risks. Studies indicate that failure rates for new executives approach 40 percent to 50 percent. Unfortunately, there is too much to know and too many unspoken expectations to make the transition process anything but stressful.

Research supports what we know intuitively: Failures or setbacks during a transition occur because newly appointed leaders falter at getting along while they are trying to get it done. While the advice to use the first weeks on the job to question, listen and learn is sound, it’s hard to act upon. Executives often feel that they don’t have a grace period because they sense their new colleagues responding with thinly veiled impatience.

Consider a client of mine named Philip. Philip was insistent that he wanted help in moving into a new role, but he never seemed to make progress on his coaching assignments. While his behavior was illogical, it was understandable. He was cast at sea in his new job, buffeted by waves of deadlines, reorganizations, interpersonal issues and staffing challenges. I had to threaten to terminate our relationship, the coaching equivalent of shock therapy, to get him to think rationally about his priorities.

The competing demands inherent in job transitions bring on heightened anxiety. Daniel Goleman, in his book Social Intelligence, defines a neural state called "frazzle." In this stressed state people become self-absorbed and find it difficult to concentrate, think clearly and establish a rapport with others. The challenge of job transitions is to manage stress so that you can operate at your best both cognitively and interpersonally. And the key to managing stress is to take control by formulating a transition plan or "road map" and building it into your calendar.

Start by determining what you need to learn and from whom during the first week on the job. Then, identify your stakeholders and schedule meetings with them within your first few weeks. These meetings serve three purposes: to establish a rapport with stakeholders, to understand what they care about and what you can do to build credibility, and to signal a sense of your values and working style.

Establishing a rapport requires one-on-one, in-person meetings in venues where both parties will be relaxed. Coffee and lunches are great, but time spent together on airplanes is even better. As a bonus, sales and operational types will appreciate your interest in traveling to the field so that you can experience the front lines of the business firsthand.

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