How to Transition Smoothly Through a Promotion

In this video I will tell you how to navigate the transition from team mate to team leader or how to join a new company in a position of leadership. How to make sure you nip any resentment in the bud and that you manage to create a sense of authority whilst also maintaining relationships with your colleagues.

How to Transition Smoothly Through a Promotion

What to Do to Ensure a Smooth Transition when Being Promoted Within Your Team

In this video I will tell you how to navigate the transition from team mate to team leader. How to make sure you nip any resentment in the bud and that you manage to create a sense of authority whilst also maintaining relationships with your colleagues.

Being promoted from within a team is a tricky career path and one that many people get wrong. Some try to remain best of buddies with their team and don’t establish any authority at all which ultimately often leaves them feeling as though they’re being taken advantage of and like a doormat. Or people try to stamp their new authority on the team with ill-advised language and new different behaviours.

It’s really important to remember that the you who has been promoted is the you the company were impressed with, and the you who was a team mate is still the you that has been promoted. Being genuinely you and remaining genuinely you is important. Don’t think that a new title gives you any leeway to act differently towards those with whom you have established good relations in the past. If you start acting differently you will make it difficult for others to continue acting as they were before, at ease with you and open with you. They won’t know quite what to say or do. Making your team feel awkward is the last thing you want to do when newly promoted.

So, let’s imagine that you have received the joyous news that you got the job. The first feeling is hooray, but pretty soon you may be hit with doubts about how to communicate the news to your former team mates. This is an especially hard moment if you were up against one of your team mates for the position and they have just received the news that they were unsuccessful. Here are the things that you should do in order to avoid any awkwardness and start off on the right foot.

Reach out as soon as possible to the unsuccessful candidate by email. I’m going to refer to her as Jenny from now on for the sake of simplicity. I say reach out by email because it may well be very difficult for Jenny to face you and congratulate you as they know they should. By emailing, you are allowing her to save face and spend some time coming up with a reply she is happy sending, as opposed to putting her on the spot. The email should take care not to be patronising at all, or gloating obviously. It should be caring and considerate, something like this:

Hi Jenny
Hope you are feeling okay. It was a tough process we’ve just been through. I’d really like to grab a coffee at some point if you fancy one. No pressure, just give me a shout if you fancy it.

Ideally you want Jenny on your side as you go through the process of becoming the team leader, you certainly don’t want her against you. The longer you leave it to communicate with her the more likely you are to bump into her or come across her in a way that neither of you have prepared for, or control over, and consequently the greater the likelihood of something inappropriate or tactless being said on either side. Take the leadership role and reach out as soon as possible - once you have confirmed that she knows the outcome of the interview process, of course.

Jenny will need time to process the disappointment, the embarrassment that she is the loser ( as she will see it) and the shame that she feels as she imagines everyone feeling sorry for her (which is probably true) and everyone talking about her negatively (which probably isn’t true). The email leaves the ball in her court in terms of the timing of her response and it allows her to accept or decline the offer of a coffee.

The next thing to consider, of course, is your team. Again you need to ensure that it’s okay to tell people first before you do that, and clarify how any announcement will be made. If it’s okay for you to let people know then you need to make sure it’s not done in front of Jenny or in a way that will embarrass her. Keeping it as under the radar as possible is only fair if you have a team mate who didn’t get the job. But if you were the only internal person who went for it you can perhaps be more openly happy. However, I would definitely watch how much I showed the happiness around work as people will be on the look out already for any smugness or changes in behaviour. Remember people are always more self interested than anything else, that’s not said in a judgemental way, it’s just a fact. We always think, ‘how will it affect me?’ And people may well be slightly worried. The ideal announcement then is one that makes it clear what’s happening and when and gives you the opportunity to reassure your team. So it might go like this in a team meeting:

You probably all know I think that I went for the team leader job that was advertised last month. Well, I heard yesterday that I was successful and I’ll be starting as team leader from the beginning of next week. I’m really pleased and looking forward to it though I know it’ll be hard. I know it might be a bit odd and I really hope you can all help me transition so that we’re all happy and we can continue working brilliantly as a team as we have done for the last 4 years. I’ll be asking for your support and advice along the way but specifically I thought I’d do some 1-2-1s next week, so please do be very honest with me about how you think the team can improve, what I can do to help the team, and you all as individuals and anything else that you think I should know. To celebrate I have brought in some cakes and I hope you’ll help me eat them otherwise I’ll be on my own here.

Looking at his statement in more detail we can see that it’s humble, but also gets straight to the point of answering their ‘what’s happening to me?’ question. It states the timeline and what your first actions will be (1-2-1s with everyone). It also asks for their help so they don’t feel as though you are lording it over them, or going to become officious. It does, however, have a slight sense of authority in it too as you are saying what is going to happen, not asking their permission. And that’s a good thing. If you’re a team leader you need to lead and the sooner you start doing so the easier it will be going forwards. It also reassures them that their voice will be heard and this will give them hope for the future. The positive close of cakes for everyone means that you are not left hanging with no one saying anything (hopefully) and everyone can dig in and enjoy a cake. I would have these on a plate and take them round offering people them as a close to my speech. It signals to everyone that the announcement is over and everything should just get back to normal from now on.

The next thing you need to be doing is continuing the gentle authority. So diarise the 1-2-1s the week you have said you’ll do them and stick to what you have agreed. It’s so important that you do exactly what you said you were going to do. They must know and trust that you have integrity and you are a team leader to be relied upon. You must, of course, receive the feedback they give you in the 1-2-1s without any judgement or defensiveness. Watch the Feedback course if you struggle with this as it’s vital to build trust. Then you must follow up on the feedback they give you in the 1-2-1s. Even if you are deciding not to take something forward you need to recognise that that person will remember what they said and be looking for signs it’s being implemented. If it’s not going to be, or there’s going to be a significant delay then make sure you have fed back to them.

In these 1-2-1s you want to establish or build on trust between you. A good way to do this it to praise them. So think of something you can genuinely say that they do well and make sure you tell them. Praising people makes them feel good and they are much more likely to be in the mood to help you if they feel good about themselves. Make sure the praise is sincere though, as people can see through insincerity very easily. You might say something like, ‘I have always admired the way you handle a certain customer. Even though they are very tricky, you always get them talking and they seem to leave in a better mood that they came in with. It’s a great skill to have.’ Or ‘I have always admired the level of organisation you manage to maintain, even through really busy times. How do you do it? Do you have any techniques to share with me?’

The final thing to note about the 1-2-1s is that you must keep everything completely confidential. Do not share anything that anyone else has said. From now on, for you, there’s no bitching and moaning about the company of the other departments. Or any individuals. That life is over for you if you want to be regarded as trustworthy and having integrity.

The next thing you need to do is establish some kind of plan for going forward. It might be as simple as ‘we’re going to continue doing what we’re doing because we do it really well. Or it might be that you are going to change a few things. If you are going to change things make sure you watch the Leading Change videos and take account of where they are in terms of their thoughts to change, rather than just imposing the change on them.

So these steps should allow a smooth transition from team member to team leader. They are worthwhile steps to follow with any promotion or when starting a new leadership role within a new company. If you can get your team to support you then that’s half the battle won already. Leaders who win the hearts and minds of their people will find everything easier.

So just to summarise then: step one is to take care of any internal competitor communication, step two is to make a sensitive, humble but authoritative announcement to your team that answers the ‘what’s happening to me’ question with a definite next step, step three is to seek honest feedback and advice from your team, make sure you listen 100% and probe for more detail. Do not allow any defensiveness, judgement or justification to come out of your mouth or show on your face. Step four is to feed back to them about what you are going to do or not going to do. Step 5 is to continue to be humble, to seek their feedback and make them feel involved and important by scheduling regular 1-2-1s in the diary from the outset and by sticking to those 1-2-1s. This will help you keep your ear to the ground, to maintain close relationships with each member of your team and to nip any issues in the bud.

Best of luck to you, and congratulations, by the way.

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