While looking to fill the void left by David Attenborough’s Planet Earth 2, I recently came across a programme on polar expeditions. The documentary talked about the various challenges travelling across the great polar ice caps and the huge danger presented with ice crevasses. As one of the team outlined: “it’s pretty straightforward when moving on compact ice shelves, the biggest risk is when transitioning from one to another.”
This got me thinking that it’s an interesting analogy for our work and personal lives. It’s all pretty straightforward when things are stable, it’s navigating the transitions that often presents the greatest challenges.
Think about how straightforward your first real job or career transition was. It could have been your first job after school or first time in a corporate setting. I still vividly remember my first people manager position. I had a clear job description and set of expectations, yet the day I started I felt totally exposed and unclear of what to do. How often do we see people really struggle to make the move from team member to manager?
And how about some other examples;
The list goes on and on. The risk of failure is very often greatest during the transition process.
The impact of not getting the transition right can be significant. Feeling demotivated and uncertain; questioning your capability; getting locked into career traps; even questioning your sense of identity. I think of an engineer friend of mine who had to move from a senior expert role on the front line, to a team leader in a corporate setting. Having been the “go to” person who made the last call on everything, he was now a smaller fish in a big pond having to deliver through others. Having to rebuild his sense of identity and how he now added value proved the biggest obstacle in his transition.
If that is the impact for one person making one transition, what is the aggregate impact at a workforce level? How much more productive could an organisation be if it could manage transitions more effectively and maintain levels of engagement and personal effectiveness?
So, what makes a difference between a successful transition and an unsuccessful one?
The second two bullets often feel too difficult to manage and so get ignored. It’s important to have a process in place to capture all of these areas as our research suggests that these are the factors that will make or break a successful transition.
They are also the factors that generate the best learning. The opportunities for personal and professional growth are significant during a transition. Attending to all of the facets of transitions means not only successfully navigating the change but also accelerating your personal success and career and even life trajectory.
So how do you harness the opportunity that transitions present and avoid the problems? There are three important steps.
Fundamentally, it’s really about being more mindful about the transition. It’s about avoiding jumping from one thing to another and being aware and present as you are going through a transition. Being in tune with the thoughts, experiences and feelings you encounter. And in an ongoing manner, checking in as to progress and recognising successes and learnings. With change more constant and transitions more frequent than ever before, we need to equip people will the skills they need to navigate these transitions successfully.
As Sir Edmund Hilary said “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”