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  • Writer's pictureOli Shawyer

Tackling a new gig...

This year has certainly been unexpected. When I set out at the beginning of it, strategies outlined and plans in development, I never could have anticipated what was to come. Nearly 10 months down the track, every time I now jump on LinkedIn, my feed is inundated with updates from great people claiming they're on the hunt for a new job because of COVID. Some industries hit harder than others. Still lots of pain likely to come.

With a looming recession shaking up the jobs economy, coupled with many businesses having huge amounts of revenue disappear from the balance sheet almost overnight, many people are either going, or about to go through a pretty substantial transition. Whether that be moving into a new industry, joining a new company, moving geographically, or if you're one of the 'luckier' ones, transitioning into a new role within the same business post a restructure.

Regardless of the degree of change, as a species significantly driven by loss (and somewhat risk) aversion, dealing with new at the best of times is hard enough. Couple that reality with a hit to your self-confidence and self-belief brought on by an outcome out of your control (such as, say, a global pandemic followed by an economic disaster), the hill you need to climb can feel just a little bit steeper. But with ultimate success in new roles being substantially founded on a successful transition, the reality is you want to shake it all off and get to the breakeven point as quickly as possible - the point where you're able to contribute as much value to the business as you have consumed from it (which can take up to a year in senior management roles). The sooner you're past this point, the sooner you become a net-contributor of value and you can put this incredibly unsettling period behind you and crack on.

Whilst there's not much I can do to help the countless amount of great people in my network find work, I figured I may still be able to help by sharing some insights and considerations I'd collected and documented a few years ago when pursuing my own transition, most notably from the wonderful book The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins (highly recommend). In particular, transition traps to avoid and tasks to execute, which upon reflection will hopefully guide you to getting to that breakeven point as quickly, and strategically, as possible.

Transition traps to avoid:

  • Sticking to what you know: whilst you're likely to have done a brilliant job in your previous job, the reality is that there is no guarantee of success by doing what made you successful beforehand.

  • Coming in with the answer: in line with the need to avoid thinking what made you successful in a previous life will make you successful in your new life, don't come in with your mind made up, or reach conclusions too quickly about the problems to attack and the solutions to address them. Give yourself time. Absorb, contemplate, consider.

  • Falling prey to the action imperative: as you feel the need to take action (likely driven by the desire to prove yourself to others), by trying too hard and focusing too much on 'doing' you're likely to become too busy to learn and in doing so, make bad decisions because of it.

  • Attempting to do too much: most of the time we have a hard enough job in being focused and disciplined in what we do and don't do. However as the pressure to deliver wins builds, beware the irreversible damage of running off in all directions and launching multiple initiatives in the hope some will pay off.

  • Setting unrealistic expectations: it's so easy to do this, particularly throughout the courting process, but be sure to establish clear, achievable objectives that are based around business outcomes as opposed to outputs (looking at you marketers). It's cliched, but you're always better off underpromising and overdelivering as opposed to being on the flip side of that.

  • Engaging in the wrong type of learning: if you're anything like me, you'll dive into learning about the business, the product, the market, the competition. But don’t forget the cultural and political dimension of your new environment. Observe, read, listen, explore.

Essential transition tasks to execute:

  • Prepare yourself: take a mental break from your previous job to give you space, air and freedom from the previous pressures and environment so that you can tackle the new role and responsibilities without the hangover.

  • Accelerate your learning: climb the learning curve as fast as you can. Drink from the fire hose and absorb and understand as much as what's feasible. But in doing so, be systematic and focused about deciding what you need to learn and how you will learn it most effectively. Don't. Forget. To. Breathe.

  • Match strategy to situation: there is nothing more powerful or important than context. Understanding it and then navigating within it. A clear diagnosis of the situation is essential for developing any action plan so be sure to understand the current environment, situation, status.

  • Secure early wins: whilst avoiding those previously outlined transition traps, you still need to build credibility and momentum. Throughout the diagnosis and education stage, identify where immediate value can be offered to improve shorter-term focused business results. But be sure that whilst short-term focused, it's not short-sighted. Beware the butterfly effect.

  • Negotiate success: build a productive working relationship with your boss and define (to help further manage) expectations of yourself, your role, what success looks like and how it's to be delivered on. Plan critical conversations about the situation, those expectations, working style, resources, and personal development. Gain consensus on your diagnoses and proposed action plans.

  • Achieve alignment: if tasked with driving or leading a business, or parts of the business, play the role of organisational architect and be sure that throughout your transition period, you engage and bring everyone on the journey. If you're a marketer, like me, this should forever be your task but no better time to start than at the beginning. In doing so, you can importantly empower everyone in the business to achieve and be part of the success.

  • Build your team: similarly to avoiding the trap of coming in with strategic or business critical answers (when you may in fact be wrong), be mindful of the same trap when reflecting on your team. Evaluate, align and mobilise those you inherit. Be systematic and strategic in approaching the team-building challenge.

  • Keep balance: it's so easy to tip the scales on the wrong side of balance but you need to work hard to maintain equilibrium. If anything to preserve your ability to make good judgement calls and hold on to perspective to avoid making the wrong calls.

There's likely long, long shopping-lists worth of traps and tasks to consider, but these are the ones I continue to revisit. Hopefully they act as a good reminder or new perspective for anyone reading this and about to endure a new journey. If you've got any in particular that you've seen great learnings and success from in managing your own transition, please do reach out and let me know.

*Caveat - I've not nailed my own advice.


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