Q I've been in the same leadership position for the past 7 years and I'm about to make a major career change to a new role. What advice do you have for managing this transition?
Changing jobs can be both exciting and nerve-racking, but the key to a smooth transition is in the planning. In the first 90 days of your new role, focus on actively listening, asking smart questions, and observing your environment. Make as few decisions and changes as possible during this period, and be intent on learning as much as you can about each of the people on your new team. Steer clear of passing judgment and/or jumping to conclusions too early in your transition.
Early in my career, I made a significant job change and worked for someone who became a wonderful mentor and friend. She noticed that in my first 90 days, I was being rather critical of the existing systems and making decisions too soon without all of the right information. During one of our early coaching sessions, she suggested something that I've used with every transition since. Purchase a journal before you start your new role. As you make observations in your first 90 days, write them down. Then note your answer to the following question: If you had to make a decision immediately about what you observed, what decision would you make? At the end of the 90-day period, look back at the decision you would've made and ask yourself: Is this still the right decision after 3 months of information? This exercise can prevent you from acting too soon and making early missteps.
As a new leader, learn what your team members do by spending time with them. From frontline clerical support staff to your managers, devote quality time to every level of employee you have on your team. If you're in a clinical role, put on a uniform and get your hands dirty. Assist with care delivery, answer phones, mop floors—whatever it takes to show your team that you're willing and able to do what needs to be done. In most cases, you'll learn more about culture and process with this activity than almost any other. It's important to schedule this time early in your 90 days and hold the time as sacred. Calendars will quickly fill with meetings and other responsibilities, but nothing will help you more in the long run than the time spent with your team early on.
Setting realistic goals for your first 90 days and putting those goals in writing ensures that you stay on track. I also like to share these with my immediate supervisor so that everyone is on the same page about what the outcomes of my first 3 months will be. I suggest that you include things like spending time with your staff, meeting key stakeholders, and completing your initial assessment. It's so easy for new leaders to be immediately sucked into the e-mail and meeting vortex, but you must resist. Don't be afraid to say “no” when being asked to do something that isn't in sync with what you and your supervisor have agreed on as your initial focus areas. There will be plenty of time in your new role for e-mails and meetings but, as the adage goes, you only have one chance to make a great first impression.
Finally, every transition is easier with a buddy. Find someone in the organization who you can trust to provide feedback and help navigate organizational politics. It's also always beneficial to have friends on the outside who can serve as your trusted advisors, mentors, and sounding boards when you need them. The best advice I can give you is to enjoy this period of learning. Remember, you were selected for your new role for a reason, so go make a difference!