Your Next Move: The Leader's Guide to Navigating Major Career Transitions: Book Review; V4 Issue 4

Title: Your Next Move: The Leader's Guide to Navigating Major Career Transitions

Author: Michael D. Watkins

Publication details: Harvard Business School Publishing, United States of America, 2009

Number of pages: 220 pages

How ready are you to make your next move in your career? To make sure you are ready read “Your Next Move”, an excellent guide for leaders navigating career transitions. Its author Michael D. Watkins is a widely recognized authority on the subject of leadership transitions. In his earlier book “The First 90 Days”, a classic of the genre, he identified strategies implemented by all successful newly appointed leaders and the organizations that hire them. In “Your Next Move” he has further developed on that thinking.The book specifically covers eight classic career transitions viz., Promotion, Leading former peers, Corporate Diplomacy ie., having to use direct authority to building alliances and consensus, Joining a new organization, International Move, Having to Turnaround a division in crisis, Realigning a division and Managing a multifaceted Portfolio.

In the introductory chapter Watkins identifies some common elements of successful transitions. According to him the ‘Seven Elements of Successful Transitions’ are organize to learn, establish A–list priorities, define strategic intent, build the leadership team, lay the organizational foundation for success, secure early wins and create supportive alliances. Then he goes on to dedicate one chapter on each of the transitions. With case studies, Watkins illustrates the challenges associated with each type of transition. For example, Watkins says, that in the case of being promoted to lead your former peers, ““you think you know everyone, and everyone thinks they know you. But then those relationships were shaped in part by the roles you previously played. The protocols, perceptions, and interactions must all be different now.” He then provides the insights, strategies, and tools one needs to manage these critical transitions and continue climbing one’s career ladder.

For each of the transitions the book elaborates on the personal and organizational adaptations required for the leader to be effective.. It encourages individual leaders to examine their own skills and development needs and it explores how organizations can help those individuals manage their transitions. For example in the promotion scenario the author suggests that the individual would be required to balance depth and breadth, delegate more deeply, influence differently, communicate more frequently and adjust to greater visibility. To ensure employees are effective when promoted the author recommends that organizations should build and use good competency models and create career development pathways consisting of the right types of experiences like “stepping stones”. “Stepping Stones” refer to a“sequence of assignments each of which represents a significant stretch along one or two of the critical development dimensions but not so much of a stretch that the leader slips and falls.”

Each chapter includes real-world examples to demonstrate the author's practical advice. For instance he writes about the “shadow organization” the informal power structures and cultural idiosyncrasies that exist in every organization and that come into play most strongly during times of personal and organizational change. To work effectively within that shadow organization, he demonstrates how to build one’s own influence network, distinguish between professional relationships and alliances and make changes in leadership style at different levels of an organization.

While the book is focused on the individual development of leaders, it also throws light on the subject of transition from an organizational perspective, thus offering a good checklist for HR managers in charge of career development of employees. And undoubtedly this is a good reference book for anyone who is currently in a career transition, expecting a career transition or simply looking for ideas on how to navigate his or her current position better.

Ask the Expert: Nov'07

1. I have motivated team members who work on client projects. However at times I am unable to allot my team members to any projects due to lack of any immediate project requirements. When they are on bench, how do I still keep them motivated?

There are different ways to keep employees motivated during slack periods. Firstly ask them if they would like to do anything in particular. If not based on your understanding of the team member’s development needs and ability to contribute to other areas in the company you can suggest any of the following activities:-

  • Internal projects: Allocate your team members to internal projects related to process improvements or R and D activities like development of a new service or product. They could also work on cross functional projects like six sigma or non technical projects like being part of the team revamping the performance management system of the organization. The key here is to get them to understand that these projects are as important as client projects and you would be giving them equal weightage during performance appraisals. Also, improvement projects require inputs from professionals who have worked on engagements and all contributions to organization capability building are critical.

  • Job rotation: If the person has always been on projects then giving him a perspective of other jobs will help him enhance his repertoire of skills. For instance for a software developer you can look at temporary roles in quality, system administration, training or pre-sales functions.

  • Self development activities: They can devote some time on self development activities like attending relevant training programs, broadening their skill base,  getting certified in their technical areas, accompanying and observing senior team members when they interact with customers, top management etc. HR can even facilitate exercises that your team members can undertake to know themselves better.

  • Leave: This is also a good time to suggest they take that much awaited vacation.

 2. I am an executive and want to move up in my career? I am told that among other things I need to develop a better business perspective to do that. What is this business perspective? How can I improve my business perspective?

Broadly speaking business perspective is when you develop broader knowledge beyond that of one’s function and job. It entails understanding business metrics. But what is important is to use the knowledge gained to ensure that the tasks that you accomplish meet business needs wherever possible and to align operations to maximize business impact.

I agree with you that by developing a better business perspective you will be able to take on higher levels of responsibilities. Simply because it will help you contribute better towards meeting your company goals.

By being aware that you need to develop business perspective you have taken the first step towards building it.  There are several ways to improve your business perspective. Some of them are listed below:-

  • Take initiative to know your company’s business plans and understand the implications of the same on your own functional area. Your manager can help you with this if you do not know where to get hold of the business plans.
  • Try to understand interconnection between various departments by spending time with people from other departments to understand what they do.
  • Scan the environment for market/competitor trends by reading business sections of the newspaper and business magazines, talking to other people in the industry etc.
  • For any task ask yourself how it is being affected by the business scenario. If required, seek clarifications with others in the company known to have good business perspective, on the same.

3. When my subordinate gets angry with his colleagues or is frustrated by small office conflicts he simply walks away from the job site. I am to blame for this pattern of behavior since I allowed it once so that he could calm down. But now he is doing it repeatedly. How do I deal with it?

It is good that you tried to find a way to help him calm down. But walking off the job permits him to avoid work and the conflict situation. Maybe that is the reason he leaves the job site.  In other words, if at other times he gets along fine with everybody; maybe he leaves the job site because he wants to avoid conflicts due to his inability to handle interpersonal stress.

Meet with him to understand from him why he walks away. Check whether your hypothesis is right? If yes, establish a different expectation for managing interpersonal stress. Recommend him to a training program on managing interpersonal conflicts.

Whatever the reason be, you must clarify what you expect from him in situations like this and also help him find other productive ways to manage interpersonal problems that he comes across at office. Let him know that walking away from the job site is no longer acceptable. Make him understand how this behavior of his interferes with productivity. Tell him that you expect him to cooperate with fellow workers and manage difficulties in the office while remaining on the job site.  

Encourage and reinforce any positive behavior that he exhibits after your discussion. Consider formal counseling if unacceptable behavior continues.