5 Practices for Effective Career Transitions

Career transitions can be exciting times. Good leaders encourage their people to take ownership of their careers and pursue new opportunities, and in the most dynamic organizations managers are recognized for developing people and preparing them for a promotion, a rotational role or a new assignment.

But who amongst us hasn’t harbored evil thoughts about losing a strong team member to a promotion or new assignment? Frankly, is disrupts things to lose a team member, and it takes time to find the right replacement. While it is human nature to want to delay the inevitable and hold on to a team member as long as possible, it is in everyone’s best interests to make the transition quickly, efficiently and thoroughly.

Effective transitions require solid planning and execution. Below are five practices for preparing for a smooth transition:

Document the transition plan. Putting the plan in writing focuses the incumbent to think through what needs to happen in order to extricate him or herself from the old role and to establish someone new to assume the work. A formal transition plan should address the following:

  • What are the work components that need to be handled? Is there a prioritization that applies, i.e., is one a high profile “keep moving at all costs” effort while others can be put on the back burner until transition is complete?
  • Who will pick up the work? This is especially important if the open role cannot be filled immediately and the work must be spread across different people.
  • By when will transition be completed? Provide a specific date (more about this below).
  • What are the steps that need to happen to prepare a new person to take on the work fully by the transition date? Examples may include: conduct knowledge transfer calls; obtain access to key systems; get added to meeting/distribution lists; etc.

Create a formal knowledge transfer plan. Teams and organizations run much leaner today, which often means information resides in small pockets or even with just one person. Avoid the loss of critical information with a knowledge transfer plan that captures important details about the work someone stepping in to the role (either temporarily or permanently) will need to know, such as:

  • Key responsibilities: what needs to happen and by when; what does success look like
  • Timelines and milestone dates
  • Important people/key relationships: go-to people; stakeholders; colleagues with whom to interact; a general list of who does what
  • Background: any contextual information that might be useful to understand past decisions or project dynamics
  • Watch outs: potential pitfalls someone unfamiliar with the work might not readily see
  • Tools/Files/Materials: names and descriptions of the systems, files and materials used for the role or for specific projects/work

Set deadlines and stick to them, aka rip off the band-aid. Establishing strict deadlines by when the incumbent will be out of the role and someone new will assume key responsibilities ensures the transition and knowledge transfer take place expediently. This way, everyone is working toward an established date and there is clear demarcation for who is responsible for the work after this date.

Which brings me to… ask someone to handle both their old and new jobs at your peril. In most transitions, there will be a period of time when the person transitioning has to be involved in both roles. In the best case scenarios, this is only for a brief period of time. In the worst case scenarios, this “foot in yesterday, foot in tomorrow” situation leads to overwork, lack of clear accountability and disengagement, and prevents the person from starting in the new role with the time and energy to tackle what they have been hired to do.

Communicate the transition and let others in the organization know who is picking up key responsibilities. I always recommend 2 communications – one to acknowledge the outgoing incumbent’s move and a second to introduce whomever is moving into the role (especially if this is a permanent replacement). These communications are a great opportunity to recognize the contributions of the person moving out and to highlight all the important work your team does. Never pass up a chance to talk about what you and your team do!

Career transitions are inevitable, but they don’t have to disrupt your entire world or that of your team. Establishing a clear plan and putting it in place is the first start to ensuring a smooth transition. I would love to hear in the comments any practices you have used to manage transitions on your team. Thanks – and happy transitions!

Heather Nelson is a partner with PeopleResults. You can reach her at hnelson@www.people-results.com or on Twitter at @HeatherGNelson1. Sign up to receive the PeopleResults blog at Current.