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How To Make a Career Transition

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Change is good is a phrase that stuck with me as an undergraduate taking a class in Management Principles. It was also the subject of a final e-mail to my team at the University of Akron before I left to become the senior director of dining services at The Ohio State University.

I'd had a 15 year career at UA, and a good position as its foodservice director, but OSU has a special place in the minds of anyone who lives in Ohio.  (Contrary to popular belief, that's not only because of football. It has to do with OSU's traditions and the impact it has had on people throughout the state.) In many ways, the new role was my “dream job;” it was also a much bigger one that would bring plenty of challenge.

The transition begins immediately (and in my experience, it remains ongoing even after two years in a new position). I knew from the minute I received “the call” that I wanted to take the post at OSU. However, I also knew the power of inclusive decision making. Thus, I reached out to my wife, my dad, and a few others who had a significant, positive impact on my life.

An important lesson during this stage is that no one is going to tell you what to do. The decision has to be yours. Even your closest of friends will hesitate to give you their opinions.

Perhaps it is a bit unfair to expect them to. However, friends and family can be a great resource to help you evaluate the options. As you will have significant (and conflicting) emotional reactions to the pros and cons of such a  decision, friends and family can sometimes help you step outside of that emotion and bring more logic to bear.

Once a decision is final, negotiations are complete and you've signed on the dotted line, another phase of transition begins.

There is never a good time to break the news that you are moving on. It is almost always difficult and emotional—after all, you’ve probably spent countless hours with the teammates you are now about to leave.

The other thing to keep in mind is that no matter how excited you are about your new opportunity, humility goes a very long way during these moments. No matter how excited your team is for you, there is always a sense that you are abandoning them.

It’s also worth noting
that, once the announcement is made, your current team and management will move on more quickly than you expect. Don’t be surprised if they start making decisions without your input or leaving you out of discussions in which you normally are involved. That’s natural.

Once you actually leave your old position, it is worth having some private time to reflect on your personal transition, which can be very valuable. I started my new job the day after I left my earlier one. It was great to get started, but there was little time to reflect.  

Once your old role is behind you, if at all possible, reserve a few days to reflect upon your approach to the new one. Once you start, your time will be consumed; your approach should be pre-established.

Quick Wins & Team Building

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You’ve shown up, and likely spent the first day meeting, greeting and getting the lay of the land. If you want to start contributing and show results quickly, you will now dedicate as much time as you possibly can to building new relationships.  

You should focus on building horizontal and vertical relationships immediately and proactively. Most organizations have internal politics that may discourage you from connecting with some people after you are there for a time. It is much easier to introduce yourself to them at the beginning as you can use “getting to know the organization” as an excuse for stepping outside of pre-existing politics.

It’s also likely your regular grind of meetings, emails and phone calls will be tempered at first. The time that frees up can be a priceless gift in retrospect. Also, people tend to be more helpful when you are new. That  brings me to my next point: the need to get some quick wins.

Quick wins will help you establish credibility with your team and your customers. Don’t underestimate their symbolic power. They sometimes create more credibility than tangible, large wins later on.

One of your toughest challenges will always be team building, and it's an area where you will need a lot of patience. Some on the staff will want to support you from the very beginning. Many will take time to evaluate you and wait for you to earn their support. The reality is that others will not buy into your mission, regardless of what you do. Plan your credibility-building efforts to take advantage of the good will of the first group, earn that of the second, and cope with those in the third.

Don’t assume all your past ideas will transfer successfully. Some may not fit the new culture.  Some won’t work for practical reasons. This doesn't mean you can’t leverage past experience. It does mean the need to keep an open mind and be ready to adjust your thinking and management style to new situations. This can’t be overstated.   

Change is good. Sometimes it can also be difficult for all involved. Most importantly, as you implement change, don't understimate or forget the value of kindness, care, and humility. They will go a long way to helping ensure the success of your transition.

Zia Ahmed Is senior director of dining services at The Ohio State University.

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