Episode 1: New Horizons

The story of this transition actually began six to nine months prior to me taking the helm of a new team.  Early in 2015, Robert came to James to ask for help.  He was in a rough spot for a newly appointed manager.  He had newly appointed supervisors and supervisors that were increasingly dissatisfied with their roles.  Additionally, Robert had a team of software professionals, the “Platforms Services Team” (essentially the SharePoint team at the time) reporting directly to him.  All of this, while reporting to a new CIO, made Robert’s role a very difficult one.  It was in early 2015 at one of our department strategic meetings that this subject came up.  There was some lively discussion around department organization and supervisor movement but very quickly a common theme emerged, I would be leaving my current role and joining Robert’s team.  We left that discussion knowing something was going to happen but without knowing when.  At this point we were still several months away from anything happening but it was already time to start preparing for this transition.


My earliest preparation focused on two areas, growing a team member to succeed me and building and strong relationships with my potential new boss and colleagues.  James has already helped solved the first problem by create what he has called the “L-Team.”  This is all of the supervisors in the department and individuals that have identified management as a possible career path.  Fortunately, I had a member of my team, Michael, that was part of this group and was already working towards becoming a supervisor.  At this point, all of my technical employees had goals to grow and focus on specific technologies to establish deep skill sets across the team.  Immediately I change Michael’s focus from depth to breadth of technology.  This was to enable him to have enough technical skills across the teams technology sets so that he could be an effective coach to the team one day.


To address the second concern I immediately asked Robert to start mentoring me.  This was mostly driven by the fact that Robert was potentially my next manager, but also driven by the fact that the was further along in a career path that I was, and still am, looking to follow.  Over the month that followed I meet with Robert on several occasions.  Looking back, this was a great way to jump start our relationship but too short to be a good mentoring relationship.  I also focused on building relationships with my potential colleagues in Robert’s Department.  This was accomplished with a series of lunch conversations that would always start as a conversations about projects or common concerns to make the conversations safe but they would quickly grow beyond those seed topics.  I was able to carry out about a half dozen of these conversations over a six month period.  I would recommend more but once a month seem to be the best I was able to do at the time.


Finally, at our August strategic meeting that included the leadership group (managers, supervisors and aspiring supervisors) from James’s and Robert’s departments, the team came together and made the recommendation that I move to supervise the platforms team and that a member of my team be moved into a development role to supervise my current team.  The output of this meeting was a recommendation that was taken to the CIO.  There was no plan or timeline for implementing this change and so it sat on the back burner for the next month.


During this month in limbo, Michael and I were almost at a loss on what to do next.  On one hand, this “recommendation” had already been communicated to our department; on the other, we were not allowed to talk with out business partners about it.  In my opinion, this was the first of a few communication mis-steps on the part of my manager.  The ramifications of these missteps will be discussed in the second post.  While we were in the limbo state, Michael and I agreed that going forward he would be (for all intents and purposes) running the team.  Michael started running and leading all of our planning meetings, project meetings and became accountable for our team’s KPIs.  Over this month, Michael started attending and participating in (but not let leading) all of our external facing meetings.  A detailed plan had not yet been created but Michael had already stepped up into the role.


At our September strategic meeting, there was a new sense of urgency towards building and executing on a transition plan.  It was discovered that Human Resources was placing a freeze on all employee position changes at the end of October, in five weeks.  We quickly hashed out a plan covering the major events for the rest of the year, tri-annual project planning, employee evaluations, and leadership meetings.  This plan covered who had responsibility for which events, for which team and when.  This plan also included me transition to the new team as soon as possible, October 12th, in less than two weeks.  At this point, I was nearly lost.  In less then two weeks I would be leading a new team.  That team was more than twice the size of my current team and directly (or indirectly) supported 4 of the divisions at AECI.  What really concerned me was that I didn’t yet have a plan for what to do once I got to the team.


This change was coming very soon and I was lost as to what todo.  I knew that I was not the first person to do this type of job transition before; therefore, I did a quick google search and I discovered The First Ninety Days by Micheal Watkins.  I immediately committed to reading this book and applying some lessons into this new role.  In the week before the transition, i met a few times with my new manager and conducted a few conversations or excercises from the book.  We jointly completed a STARS portfolio of the team, had a conversation around expectations for the rest of the year, and reviewed my personal 90 day plan.  This book was very influential in guiding me through this transition and I would recommend it to anyone in a similar situation.


This post covers all the events leading up to this management transition I recently underwent.   This is really more of the setup and back story about this transition and less on guidance, advice or lessons learned at this point.  Even this early into the story there is one lesson to share with anyone who may be going through a transition like this and that is to have a plan.  With a plan inplace, you will hit the ground running; you will likely be running in the wrong direction, but a plan on day one will give you momentum and credibility.  These are a critical in having a successful leadership transition.  Good leaders will always be able to read their situation and adjust course as necessary.  Below are some artifacts, including my 90 day plan.  In my next post I will go over the events of the first two weeks in this new role.