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Updated Jan 30, 2024

Strategies for Successful Employee Transition

Shifting an employee into a new role can be challenging, but when it's the right fit, it's worth the move.

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Rebecka Green, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

Table of Contents

Open row
  • Employing a worker in the wrong role can be detrimental to their success and your business’s success.
  • Many business owners must make the difficult decision to either transition an employee into a new role or support their transition into a new company.
  • Business owners and managers can implement many strategies to ensure a smooth internal employee transition or successful outplacement.
  • This article is for business owners and managers looking to transition their employees into new roles.

Keeping a good employee in the wrong position can damage their professional growth and the business’s success. Individuals enter unsuitable roles for various reasons: not doing enough research about the organization, inconsistent expectations about the job, a need for stable employment, poor talent management processes or a mismatched workplace culture.

Often, it becomes apparent that these employees must transition to a new role in the company or with another employer. When this time comes, ensuring a cordial and smooth transition is crucial for everyone. 

How to reposition an employee internally

A business owner or manager may come to realize that an employee isn’t well suited to their role. However, good leaders don’t automatically write off their team members – especially if they’re talented and can contribute to the organization in other capacities. 

“Employers can facilitate the natural progression and movement of talented individuals by opening up channels to facilitate the redeployment of staff, offering easy access to open internal positions and opportunities for career mobility within their organization,” advised Phyllis Millikan, former SVP for career management at Right Management.

Consider the following strategies to transition an employee to a new and more suitable role in the company. 

1. Communicate with the employee honestly and openly.

Communicating with employees openly and respectfully helps them feel some control over the situation, not like something is being done to them. “Let them know your goal is to help them develop to their most full potential and capacity, and mean it,” said Angie Nuttle, CEO of talent and organizational development consulting firm Corporate Talent Institute.

Consider the following when communicating with the employee: 

  • Ask the employee if they’re happy in their current role. Before making any decisions, speak with the employee and encourage them to be open about their role, how they feel they’re doing and their expectations. They’re likely aware the position isn’t a good fit and may embrace the idea of shifting their role within the company. 
  • Ask the employee what their ideal role would be. The employee may have an idea about a department where they could contribute more effectively – even if such a move requires more training. “Ask your employees questions, and discuss how they want to learn and develop,” Millikan suggested. “Not only is this critical to engaging an individual in your workforce and ensuring they’re content in their role, but it also helps teams work more productively together.
  • Gauge their feelings about the current workplace culture. Your discussions may reveal that the employee likes the company but is struggling with a specific department’s workplace culture. “If someone’s struggle in a role is about company culture, that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to leave the company outright,” said Rebecca Zucker, founding partner at Next Step Partners. “A transition to another department might just do the trick, as different departments can have vastly different cultures.”

If management and the employee agree they want to explore other roles in the company, they can move forward as a team with a shared goal and improved morale all around.

“If the change is done well, it will nearly always result in improved morale and productivity – not just for that employee, but often for anyone else whose work was impacted by that employee’s responsibilities,” said Christian Muntean, principal at Vantage Consulting.

2. Consider the employee’s skills and how you can utilize them differently.

Jennifer Martin, the principal small business coach at Zest Business Consulting, advises employers to determine if the team member has job skills or talents underutilized in their current position. Don’t just ask them what they’d rather be doing. Instead, ask them if the company is getting their best work. If not, brainstorm how they could put their skills to better use.

Nuttle suggests giving the employee professional feedback on what they’re doing well and finding ways to maximize those qualities and achievements.

Commit to professional development programs in the workplace to help your team continually explore their talents and pursue new skills.

3. Create a job transition plan.

When everyone is on the same page about finding a better fit for the employee, it’s time to create a job transition plan that includes the following:

  • Create a transition management team. The job transition plan should include a transition management team that works to identify a new role and get the employee up to speed in their new duties. Zucker said the job transition plan usually lasts around 90 days. Its goal is maximizing the transition’s impact and assimilating the employee into their new organizational role.
  • Find a new role for the employee. The employee and the transition management team must identify a promising new role in the company. The goal is to ensure you move the employee to a position that fills the gaps they experienced in their current role. For example, if they’re an outgoing person who was in a behind-the-scenes job with little company and departmental interaction, ensure the new position has plenty of human contact. 
  • Onboard the employee in their new role. When an employee takes on a new role in the same company, some aspects of the new-employee onboarding process won’t be necessary. For example, they likely already have an employee handbook and understand crucial HR policies. However, you must help them assimilate into their new role by providing proper training and support.
  • Enlist HR’s help to ease the transition. Your in-house HR team can help get the employee up to speed on their new role’s logistics – particularly if there’s a significant departmental change. The transitional onboarding process should include departmental introductions. Your HR team can arrange for a new co-worker to take them to lunch, or it can suggest a peer mentorship program so that they feel supported through all stages of the transition.
  • Monitor the transition closely. Communicate with the employee frequently so they can share feedback and ask questions. The transition team should work closely with the employee and their new department heads to ensure everyone agrees on what success looks like during the transition.
  • Pay attention to the rest of the team. While it’s crucial to ensure the transitioning employee feels secure and successful, your other team members also need support. Some employees may have lost a team member in this transition, while others are gaining one. Ensure everyone understands the process and feels heard.
Be thoughtful and careful when announcing the employee is leaving their previous department. Share any new workflow protocols and whether you're seeking a replacement to reassure the remaining team's workload concerns.

What employees can do to ensure a successful internal transition 

Sometimes, an employee is the first to recognize that they’re unhappy in their current role and may do better elsewhere. Here’s what they can do to start the process and assimilate successfully into a new role: 

  • Start networking internally. Employees seeking a transfer should start the process by networking internally within the organization. For example, grab coffee or set up a lunch with a colleague to get a sense of various departments’ workplace cultures. These interactions present an opportunity for employees in other departments to learn about your talents and how they could utilize them. If you do your research and networking beforehand, your chances of a successful transfer will be better.
  • Build relationships with new team members. Once you’ve secured a new role, your work isn’t over. Actively building good business relationships with your new cohorts is the key to success. “Don’t just focus on your direct manager,” Zucker advised. “Get to know your manager’s boss [and] other stakeholders, and listen carefully to learn what they care about and what their definition of success looks like in your role.”
  • Solicit regular feedback. Soliciting regular feedback is crucial to assess how you’re doing in the new role. Don’t think of it as scheduled criticism. Instead, view manager and co-worker feedback as an opportunity to learn about your new professional environment.
  • Ease into your new role. Zucker recommends leaving behind the mentality of “in my last position, this is how we did things,” at least initially. In the beginning stages of your career transition, focus on listening and asking good questions of those who have been there longer than you. Then, when you want to introduce new ideas and past experiences, they’ll be better received with the knowledge that you first took the time to understand the new role and department.
Whether you switch departments or leave an organization, keep communication channels open to preserve relationships, future networking opportunities and potential professional references.

How to transition employees to a new company

Letting an employee go is a difficult decision. Firing an employee for clear infractions can be cut and dried, but usually, saying goodbye is more nuanced. In many cases, business owners and managers want to transition employees to a new company cordially and smoothly, with no hard feelings. Here are some tips and strategies for doing just that: 

1. Offer outplacement services. 

Outplacement is when an organization provides career transition support to an employee exiting the business because of layoffs, other downsizing measures or when the job isn’t working out. This process aims to preserve the relationship between the employee and the business.

“Career transition services are invaluable for individuals looking to transition to a new organization,” Zucker noted. Job searching is a lonely experience, so having a partner who provides both tactical and emotional coaching during your search is invaluable. 

Transition services and consultants offer support and help manage your hopes and expectations. “It’s like having a trainer at the gym,” said Zucker. “Career transition services will help you accomplish more than you would all on your own.”

Businesses offer varying types of transition support. For example, some enact a tight-knit, visible alumni network that provides avenues for the organization to stay in contact with former employees and for current and former employees to keep in touch with each other. This network approach builds goodwill that will help ensure your former employees speak highly of your employee support and company culture.

2. Treat employees like future customers.

“Always think of your employees as future customers or clients,” Zucker advised. While this sounds transactional, it just means the employee experience doesn’t end when they leave your company. Preserving relationships with departing employees ensures they’ll speak highly of your organization. You never know when your paths will cross again professionally, so maintaining respect and cordiality benefits everyone.

For example, if an employee leaves your company to start a new business, they might want to refer to or hire your organization in the future. If the parting relationship is positive, the chance of an ongoing and mutually beneficial relationship is much higher.

3. Conduct an exit interview. 

Your departing team members can share valuable insights you can use to improve the business. For example, when conducting an exit interview, you can learn about the former employee’s experiences, invite their feedback and implement changes that may help future employee retention

This opportunity for honest feedback allows departing employees to feel heard and valued, helping everyone move on with positive feelings. 

Did You Know?Did you know
Setting clear expectations during the employee transition process is crucial for fostering goodwill and preserving relationships.

Why successful employee transitions are important

Employee transitions demonstrate that you care about your employees’ success – even if they no longer work for your business. “A successful employee transition will aim to preserve relationships on all sides,” Zucker explained.

Whether you’re an employee seeking a change or a manager helping a team member transition, keeping lines of communication open benefits everyone. If you successfully transition a team member to a new role or department, you salvage their skills and talents and boost productivity and morale all around. “Helping people develop skills, gain experience and manage their careers is vital to keep them engaged and productive,” Millikan said.

Transitioning with ease

Discovering that someone is in the wrong role doesn’t necessarily mean they’re in the wrong business. Taking the time to evaluate your team’s strengths and match them to the right position can help you correct course and retain valuable talent. 

Regardless of whether you’re transitioning an employee into a new role within your company or at a completely different company, providing support throughout the process will benefit both parties. Preserving relationships and assisting current and former team members with career guidance shows that you value people – and that’s just good business. 

Sammi Caramela contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article. 

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Rebecka Green, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
In December 2018, Rebecka received her bachelor's in English composition and religion from Luther College. She currently resides in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where she does communications and marketing for two local nonprofits. In her free time, she enjoys writing projects of all shapes and sizes and exploring her new home city. You can reach her by email at or connect with her on Twitter.
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