In preparation for an MBA workshop on career transitions, I found myself reflecting on my own experience of new starts. Given the nature of my early work (consultancy and project management), I had many new starts. In fact I counted 14 in the space of a 15 year corporate career. These starts were sometimes projects with new clients, a new role with a different organisation or on a number of occasions they were assignments in different countries. The one common factor was the need to hit the ground running!
I remember a significant shift in my approach as time went on. Part of that reflected the seniority of the roles, but part of it reflected an increased awareness of factors that would influence my success.
In my experience some of the key factors were as follows:
The cultural gap: I don’t think we can ever under-estimate the culturaldifferences within organisations and consequently the challenge of ‘fitting’ within the culture. When working internationally I always expected cultural challenges (and I loved it!) however some of my biggest cultural challenges were in Ireland where I did not expect it.
I have worked with a number of clients both in advance of making a career decision and also after making the decision to help them understand the cultural gap and how best to deal with it. If the individual can anticipate potential ‘cultural flash-points’ they can be operate in a more culturally sensitive fashion. I draw a distinction between being ‘culturally sensitive’ and ‘fitting into’ into the culture though as huge benefits can often be gained by coming from a different perspective and being yourself.
Availability of resources: many people may be familiar with the scenario where the excitement of a new role turns to frustration as it becomes obvious that resources are not being made available to enable success. Sometimes this can be anticipated beforehand and it may affect your decision to take the job. Clearly, the more information you can gain in advance the better your ability to make an informed decision.
In my own case, I experienced this once. I could not however have anticipated it, as the challenge arose 6 months into the role. A few months on, the project was canned and I moved onto my next assignment. Personally, I learnt vast amounts from the experience so it was not wasted effort from my point of view, however it did make me more conscious of this scenario when taking on new roles.
Importance of relationships: in the flurry to come up the curve in a new industry/ organisation/ function, we can sometimes lose perspective of our stakeholders. In my last couple of roles I very consciously sat down and made a list of all the relevant stakeholders in advance. I tried to take a broad perspective on this exercise including customers, suppliers, regulators etc as appropriate. Once compiled, I then worked out the best way of building these relationships.
If you have the luxury of a decent break between roles, this is an ideal time to start building some of these relationships in advance (assuming you can also fit in a rest for yourself).
Your Support Team: Goldsmith and Carter outline what they describe as the ‘perfect storm’ for career transitions in their recent book (Best Practices in Talent Management, 2010) . This is the coupling of significant learning demands in complex roles, along with a lack of development support. In my experience, it is possible to increase the chances of a smooth transition by taking a structured approach to the learning demands as well as assembling a support team in advance who will be there when the inevitable bumps in the road materialise.
I am really looking forward to my upcoming MBA workshop on this topic where I hope to help the participants plan their next career move.