Course Correction

The handy guide provides tips on how to ensure smooth career transitions by realigning your working style.

Namrata Dadwal | Print Edition: October 2010

You are thrilled with your promotion; it feels great to be appreciated. You walk excitedly to the cafeteria during lunch hour to discuss the ideas that are buzzing in your head.

But wait, where should you sit? At the table with your former peers, who are now junior to you (and may not be able to relate to your ideas), or with your erstwhile seniors and current peers (with whom you may not be comfortable pitching in ideas)? How do you evaluate an ex-colleague, who is now a junior, and with whom you have developed a strong friendship over the years? Your happiness balloon is about to be pricked by little worry needles, isn't it? Don't fret.

Michael D. Watkins' self-help manual, Your Next Move, is going to help you make a smooth transition. The book is loaded with advice on how to overcome the challenges that you face whenever you make a career change.

Each shift brings with it a unique set of irritants. So you will need to decide whether to walk on eggshells or be the new broom that sweeps the office clean. Tip-toeing may not get you noticed for the next promotion and if you sweep too hard you may throw out some good stuff, which could create disgruntlement in the office.

Watkins has listed eight career transitions, devoting a chapter to each phase, the obstacles you are likely to face and the reformative steps that can help you triumph. Chapters 1 to 5 detail the metamorphosis you are bound to undergo at least once, if not more times, in your career. These happen when you get promoted, have to lead your erstwhile peers, move to a more general position with wider responsibilities, join a new organisation or pick a job in a foreign country.

Michael Watkins lists the challenges and opportunities that career transitions offer.

  • S(Start-up): The challenge is to build from scratch the strategy, structure and systems, but this also provides you freedom as there are no rigid preconceptions.
  • T(Turnaround): There is a lot of time constraint and you may have to sack people. However, even a little success is a major achievement.
  • A(Accelerated growth): It may be difficult to ensure smooth scaling and integrate new employees, but the potential for growth is motivating.
  • R(Realignment): You will have to take tough decisions to restructure the organisation. However, it will also inspire employees to give their best.
  • S(Sustaining success): You may not find it easy to take the business to the next level. However, a strong foundation can be a boost.

Chapters 6 to 8 describe the organisational challenges that you are likely to face, no matter which post you hold. These relate to the STARS portfolio - start-up, turnaround, accelerated growth, realignment and sustaining success (see STARS TREK).

In fact, you may find that different parts of your organisation go through these various transitions. So, even though you don't change jobs, you may have to modify your working style and adopt different strategies to handle these situations.

According to Watkins, the first step to a smooth changeover is to ask yourself two questions when you make a shift- what do I need to work on when it comes to myself and what do I need to work on in the organisation?

Once you've listed the answers, you'll be able to work out a strategy to find the best solution. To help you formulate your approach, Watkins has liberally included checklists.

He makes the book more identifiable to the reader by starting each chapter with a case study. These read more like short stories and give the book depth as well as a personal touch.

His perceptive insights on how these leaders should handle issues before they escalate into volatile problems is engrossing. The book's tone is conversational, but the counsel may seem repetitive. This is understandable as certain transitions tend to overlap.

So, a few transformational steps under the promotion challenge sound similar to those in the 'leading the peers' challenge. The book is aimed more at senior level executives as it deals with leadership issues.

However, the pointers can be used by anyone who is planning a career change or has made one. In fact, you don't have to change your job to follow Watkins' advice. So walk up to your boss tomorrow and ask him some of the questions listed under the 'The Five Conversations'- what constitutes 'wins' for you? what outcomes do I most need to avoid? what resources are available to me? what scope do I have to make changes in my team? to what extent will you visibly support me in making changes? Following Watkins' tips won't make your problems vanish, but they will certainly ensure that there are fewer of these to start with.

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