If you aspire to acquire more managerial skills, be promoted, delegate effectively or leave a position on good terms, you need to be able to complete a successful transition. Transition is not something that gets a lot of attention in school, executive training courses, etc., and yet it is essential to moving ahead and moving on. Here are my top five tips for an effective transition and a bonus tip for that situation where you are asked to train your replacement.
First, let me do away with the myth that being indispensable equals job security; indispensable equals stuck. We have all worked with that person who refuses to share information or who hoards the knowledge like it’s the Coca-Cola formula. DON’T BE THAT PERSON! We will call that person Ami (Ain’t moving inamillionyears). In addition to the fact that no one wants to work with Ami, she isn’t getting promoted because she has convinced everyone that no one can do her job except her. So guess what? No one ever will. Ami will stay right where she is until she becomes so unbearable that management figures out how to get the job done by someone else, outsources it or determines the pain of it not getting done is less than the pain of dealing with Ami. From the moment you get a position, you should be looking for the person who will replace you when you move up/out. If there isn’t anyone, it will be more difficult for you to move on.
Second, what was yours is no longer. The job/task/team that you oversaw is going elsewhere. You need to not only accept that, but to embrace it. The information you need to pass on pertains to the critical points of the job/task/ strategy. Your personal thoughts, your beliefs, your approach are all footnotes now and should be shared accordingly (you know how the footnotes are at the end in the really small print)? Your successor will have their own views, their own approach, their own beliefs and those will be implemented, not yours. If you can accept that, your transition will proceed much smoother because the person(s) you are transitioning to already have. The sooner you let go, the more comfortable everyone involved will feel and the more successful the transition will be.
Next, set the tone; eliminate the awkward. It is up to you to make the transition comfortable. Nothing less than a poorly constructed blind date is as awkward as a transition. Everyone involved is outside of their comfort zone. The knowledge transfer is coming from you. If you are impatient, cranky, snarky or unorganized, no one will view the transition as successful. Be prepared, nothing delivers the message that you don’t value someone’s time like coming to this with the belief that you can ‘wing it’ because it’s what you do everyday. Questions like “How can I help?” Or “How would you prefer to review task ‘x’?” Let the person know you want to tailor the delivery to how they learn best.
Then, share the wealth. People sometimes have a problem giving away how they perform certain tasks or obtain results. This is not your intellectual property. Share what you know with the people who will be performing the job after you. That may be your direct replacement or it could be people on your team or a colleague. Sharing what you know in this circumstance is like throwing good karma out to the cosmos. It will come back. And yes, the bad karma comes back too. Don’t make people beg for/cajole/extract helpful information.
Finally, communicate, communicate and communicate. The more you can engage the party(ies) coming in, the more you can identify gaps, make them feel at ease to ask questions, and otherwise, understand what they need to know to be successful. Provide more than one channel of communication. Some may be more willing to ask questions via e-mail than in person or a room full of colleagues; others may need to talk through a process face-to-face or on the phone.
Why do you care if this is a successful transition? After all, you may be leaving the company, or moving to a different division. You might even be in the dreaded position of training your replacement and then you will be out of a job. It’s not always a happy, skippy reason. Even if we put aside the karma thing because you don’t believe in that stuff, Disney was right when he said, “It’s a small world after all.” A bad transition will follow you further than if you’re the one stealing people’s lunches from the office fridge (she left and it just stopped happening!). The people you transition to, today, will move to different companies tomorrow, they will talk to the next people you interview with or it really is true that what goes around, comes around. If taking the high road and being a professional aren’t enough, consider that people will remember those who made the transition smooth and comfortable (“I have to hand it to him, he did a great transition”) and they will also remember those who didn’t. What do you want to be remembered for?