Four Ways to Create a Successful Transition Environment

Transitions are not easy on either end. Learn about some strategies that can help make it a positive experience.

March 22, 2018

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker holds ten different jobs before age 40. I believe that we can only expect this number to grow in the future. Gone are the days when someone worked for one company for 40 years and retired. Most people will have to transition both in and out of several jobs and higher education marketing and communication professionals are no different.

As someone who recently went through the transition, I found some fundamental strategies led to a positive exit from one college and entry into a new university. After 17 years and four different job titles, earlier this year I left Gettysburg College, my alma mater, to lead a great team at St. Lawrence University, in Canton, New York.

Here are four things that I learned in the process:

1. Keep your network informed

There were many on-campus colleagues, professional friends, and alumni that I wanted to inform as I was preparing to leave Gettysburg. I made a list and made sure to connect with each of those individuals personally. Hopefully, you have created a network at your current institution as well. Set up lunch or coffee appointments with key people that you want to stay in touch with. You spent time building relationships, ensure that they continue to mature in your new job.

2. Transition memo

As I prepared to leave Gettysburg, I wanted to make the transition as smooth as possible for my successor. I drafted a transition memo that was designed to provide an outline for both my supervisor and successor. It described the strategies and tactics I had used and some ideas for future considerations. It covered areas such as staffing, budget, critical projects, some tactical concerns, and future research needs. The memo was designed to pass on ownership of the office and I believe it provided a framework that enabled the next person the opportunity to hit the ground running.

3. Create your plan

Not everyone will leave a transition memo as I described above. How do you start without a roadmap like that? Create your own. If the individuals who held your job before you agree, I highly recommend setting up a phone call and asking lots of questions. I was incredibly lucky to have that situation at St. Lawrence, and I am grateful for the time that my predecessors gave me to help better understand the school, the culture, and the area I would oversee. I was also very fortunate to talk to other colleagues who knew my area well and could provide me with insights and advice as I prepared for my new role.

4. Listen and ask for advice

Plan to listen a lot. You will need to create opportunities for your new team to provide their insights and institutional knowledge. I found it very helpful to ask everyone on my team to respond to a list of questions before I started. It was important for me to hear all of their perspectives — this gave me essential information and allowed me to focus on areas that overlapped. It also gave my new colleagues a chance to begin to learn my style.

A transition is not easy on either end. It comes with stress and uncertainty. If you approach it with these four strategies in mind, as well as genuine excitement, you will be set up for a positive experience.

Paul Redfern is vice president for communications at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. He is a frequent presenter on marketing and brand topics at national conferences and serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the College and University Public Relations and Associated Professionals (CUPRAP).


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