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Managing career transition hurdles. The right support?

Posted on from DDI UK

Far too often organisations take a ‘survival of the fittest’ approach to managing career transitions, providing little nourishment or skills for those that must adjust to radically different responsibilities and workload. In real survival training, the best approach is not to parachute a group of people into the jungle and see who survives. Rather they are taught how to operate in the environment in which they find themselves, what skills to use and how to think differently. So why then do we expect leaders to survive in a new role, with little training and support to equip them with the skills needed to make the transition?

Lack of leadership support

Only 28% of organisations are effectively developing their leaders

According to DDI research, managing a career transition can be more stressful than bereavement or moving home, yet only 28% of organisations are effectively preparing their leaders for the enormous change required to take on their new roles. Unsurprisingly, evidence suggests that a third of new leaders will fail due to lack of support or capability in their new role.

It becomes lonely at the top

All transitions are difficult and get more challenging further up the career ladder. The step up to a more senior, strategic role can be the most difficult transition for many to make. It's important to realise that leaders are not born with all the skills they will need in their roles and, faced with a gap organisations, can take one of two approaches:

1. Let them acquire the skills on the job – the sink or swim approach or;

2. Provide structured skills acquisition and other relevant support. Not surprisingly the latter offers by far the best Results.

Many organisations have removed unnecessary layers of leadership in a bid to become more streamlined, yet this means that as companies begin to grow once more, less experienced leaders are being asked to take on more and more varied leadership roles.  As a result, their responsibilities grow, as does the need to manage larger teams and to take a more hands-off approach to daily activities, focusing more on strategy and team performance, for example. 

Leaders can also often feel more isolated and afraid to admit that some new responsibilities represent a Challenge for them and this is an area where coaching and mentoring can provide considerable support to new and emerging leaders.

Essentials for successful leadership transition

DDI suggests the following are all essential elements to the success of a learning and development strategy:

  • Facilitate interventions that allow leaders to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. Not least doing this will help them get into the right mindset and engage in an ongoing programme of professional development
  • Ensure new leaders know what is expected of them. Be clear about their own performance expectations and that of their team’s
  • Provide ongoing training which maximises strengths, helps address weaknesses and enables new leaders to develop a developmental action plan
  • Ensure that any learning and development is actually applied effectively at work and is measurable
  • Provide appropriate coaching and mentoring to provide ongoing support and to help to identify further areas for development
  • Provide other resources and processes to help support both new leaders and in turn their line managers

Leadership development

If you want to give those going through a career transition the best opportunity to survive in the corporate workplace, all of the above points should be considered for long-term sustainability. To expect someone to be successful, based solely on their previous performance and future potential is a risky strategy. Some will undoubtedly succeed due to their own efforts and determination, yet providing the right support will accelerate their performance and significantly, that of their team.

DDI’s new Developmental Frameworks for emerging and mid-level leaders has been developed to support those making the transition into a more senior leadership role. See for further details.

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