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To new beginnings: tips for transitioning your career during times of change

No matter the number of years you have or the depth of your past experiences, there’s always a learning curve for transitioning into a new role: adapting to an unfamiliar work culture, understanding internal processes, building trust, leading a new team, and acquiring the skills and knowledge needed to address specific challenges. But the greatest […]

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No matter the number of years you have or the depth of your past experiences, there’s always a learning curve for transitioning into a new role: adapting to an unfamiliar work culture, understanding internal processes, building trust, leading a new team, and acquiring the skills and knowledge needed to address specific challenges. But the greatest rewards lie outside our comfort zone and the temporary adjustment period is just the beginning of the journey. 

It’s been just over eight months since I began my new role as CMO and CCO of Russell Reynolds. Fortuitously, this transition has happened against the backdrop of the unprecedented events of 2020, where a global pandemic upended the way business has been conducted for decades, and organizations are being held accountable for addressing systemic injustices plaguing our communities.

While every role is being affected by these monumental shifts, the marketing and communications function has stepped onto the front lines of business transformation – fusing together what a company wants to say publicly with what’s happening internally. 

Starting anew during this time of extraordinary disruption has been challenging but also a valuable and rewarding learning experience. There are some key steps a professional can take to ease the process and ensure a successful transition into a new role.

Take time to recharge

Have you ever ended a job on a Friday and then started a new one on Monday?

I’ve done it myself but, from both my own experiences and in managing others, I’ve learned that it’s important to take some time off in between the end of one chapter and the start of your new one. Taking time off helps you de-stress and start your new role with a clear head, something increasingly important in today’s climate. It also gives you time to reflect on what’s important in your life and spend time with your family.

A break between jobs is one of the most relaxing times because there’s no lingering emails or projects sitting in the back of your mind, awaiting your return. During this rare moment, you can truly unplug and spend your days doing what you want to. This could be the time to read, spend time on a hobby, finish personal projects, enjoy nature, practice self-care, or simply relax. There’s no set agenda unless you want there to be. It’s up to you, and that’s why it’s so special.   

Embrace vulnerability

After being hired in a new role, it’s easy to get roped into feeling like you need to hit the ground running and put your stamp on projects and processes. But what we often forget is that part of making our mark is listening to others and asking questions. We may be experts in our field, but we’re not experts in our new company’s culture, working style, or business model. Not yet at least.

One of my favorite quotes is, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” That, and of course, “Stay curious.” These quotes go hand-in-hand with embracing vulnerability, which is key to making human connections. Ask questions and listen to your team to help you get the lay of the land.

Notably, thanks to widespread virtualization amid the COVID-19 pandemic, onboarding looks a little bit different these days at many companies, and it can be hard to find the right person to steer you in the right direction for information. Gone are the days of just popping your head out of your office, over your cubicle wall, or to your seatmates to ask for materials or guidance. This makes raising your hand and explicitly asking for what you need paramount.

Foster an inclusive team by being mindful

Leaders set the tone of their teams. While it’s dictated by other factors, you ultimately set the tone. The first 90-days in a new job are critical in building trust and laying the groundwork for a positive team dynamic.

Recent thought leadership from Russell Reynolds on executive transition in a crisis, notes that building rapport in early relationships is still more easily done in person. This means that, as leaders, we need to work harder to connect with teams, clients, and stakeholders against the backdrop of increased remote work.

While communicating on video calls helps, it’s also important to be mindful of when you schedule a time to meet and how you use that time. For example, if you know one of your team members has small kids at home, ask what times work best for them rather than just finding an empty slot on their calendar. Be sure to also include time in your agenda to have more informal catchups focused on getting to know one another. After all, the magic of building connections often happens in the unstructured moments.

Enjoy your new beginning

The Transition Model, which was created by change consultant William Bridges, consists of three key stages: 1) ending, losing and letting go; 2) the neutral or in-between zone; and 3) the new beginning. In order to ensure a smooth transition, it’s important to recognize and fully live in the moment of each of these stages.

Amid massive layoffs, restructuring, and record unemployment, the job market is volatile. Whatever the circumstance was for departing from your previous position, whether voluntary or involuntary, it’s critical to let go of any internal emotions or barriers that may stand in your way of moving forward. If possible, focus on the lessons learned. The next phase is when you reach neutrality, which is the ideal time to rest and recharge. Finally, when you find your new beginning, you will also hopefully find a renewed sense of purpose. Any role will have its challenges but focusing on your purpose can help overcome them.  

No matter which stage of the transition model you are currently tracking, self-awareness is critical. In particular, you must always be patient and gentle with yourself. Changes don’t always happen overnight. Furthermore, the pandemic may prolong transition processes or accelerate them in some cases.

In my experience, the three transition steps don’t always have to be linear. For example, when you find yourself in the new beginning phase, it can be helpful to sometimes backtrack to step 1 if you find yourself dwelling on the past. Each phase of the transition journey is equally important and ultimately advances your goals in a positive, meaningful direction so you can fully enjoy your new beginning.

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