The Most Important Thing in an Effective Job Transition

What’s the most important thing you can do to help ensure that you successfully transition into your new role?

Start your new job before you start.

This is one of the key messages from William J. White, CEO, professor and author of the new book: Get Ready. Get Set. Go! White cites research by the Corporate Executive Board showing that effectively-transitioning leaders achieve a strong level of performance more than nine months before average-transitioning leaders. A key difference is that the effectively-transitioning leaders are already running on Day One.

Here are some proactive steps you can take – before Day One – to help ensure you hit the ground running:

  1. BYOOB – bring your own onboarding plan. Create your individualized plan and start working it in advance. If your company gives you a plan, it will likely only include compliance training, health plan and benefits instructions, and web links to company policies and procedures. Your onboarding plan needs to include much more. See the appendix in Get Ready. Get Set. Go! for some example plans – especially for recent graduates up to mid-level leaders. The First 90 Days, by Michael Watkins, also has a great list of 10 areas of focus aimed especially at senior leaders.
  2. Make your plan comprehensive. Your onboarding plan will vary depending on whether you’re new with the company and colleagues and depending on the extent of your experience and skill gaps. Make sure to include steps to get up to speed on your role, company and industry. Review annual reports, company websites and recent news articles. And talk to several people to get the official and unofficial scoop on culture, personalities and role expectations.
  3. Step up your game. Don’t miss the opportunity to identify your own development needs. Consider prior formal and informal performance feedback and lessons from previous roles and transitions. Plan how you’ll address these, leveraging your strengths, as well as other resources, such as mentors, peers and/or a coach. (Also, see Effective Immediately, by Emily Bennington and Skip Lineberg, for dynamite suggestions; though aimed mainly at newer professionals, the authors’ engaging insights and practical tips on building core professional skills and self-leadership are helpful across all roles and experience levels.)
  4. Get quality time with your new boss. Your relationship with your boss is perhaps the single most important factor in your engagement and success on the job. Anything you do to build a good relationship quickly is a wise investment. Get input on key parts of your onboarding plan, including her priorities for the role, where to focus your learning, and who else you should get to know. Ask about her style of leading and communicating and get tips about how best to work with her.
  5. Focus on building relationships – not just knowledge. Begin meeting other key people, too – before you start. Get their suggestions about what you’ll need to know and do to be successful. Ask them who else you should get to know. You will not only learn valuable information; you will also begin building trusting and collaborative relationships.

Whether you have three months, three weeks or three days between the time you land the role and the time you start, the key to effectively transitioning is to begin your job before “officially” starting.

Image Credit.

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults and a Leadership and Career Coach. He also serves on the board of Executive Leaders in Transition Exchange (ELITE), a non-profit organization that helps senior HR and finance leaders find jobs through networking.  You can reach him at or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.