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Strategies for Successful Employee Transition

Rebecka Green
Rebecka Green

If you want to change an employee's responsibilities, you need to make sure you transition them properly. Here's how to do it.

A good employee in the wrong position can harm both the employee and the business’s success. Individuals enter roles that are wrong for them for various reasons: not doing enough research about the organization, inconsistent expectations about the job following the hiring process, a high need for stable employment, poor talent management processes or a mismatched workplace culture.

When the time comes for this employee to transition into a new position, either within their current organization or at another, it is in the interest of both the employee and their employers to ensure the employee experiences a cordial and smooth transition.

“A successful employee transition will aim to preserve relationships on all sides,” said Rebecca Zucker, co-founder and partner at Next Step Partners.

There are different strategies for employee transitions depending on whether you’re the individual looking to transition or the organization aiding the transition. Likewise, the way each party approaches this change depends on whether the employee is transitioning within the company or outside of it. The common thread in these situations is the need to “treat the other party like a future customer,” according to Zucker.

While employers would like to believe they always make the right hire, a report by Right Management found that 1 in 5 workers are in the wrong job, leaving them feeling unmotivated, disengaged and unproductive.

But the wrong role doesn’t always mean the wrong business, said Phyllis Millikan, senior vice president for career management at Right Management.

“The right person may have been hired, but in today’s work environment, where skills are changing rapidly … employees who aren’t encouraged to continually learn and develop may find the right role quickly becomes the wrong fit,” she said.

This can have a negative impact on the company across the board. Millikan noted that there is a 4% increase in revenue growth and a 10% increase in customer satisfaction in dealings with employees who feel content in their roles versus ones who don’t.

“Helping people develop skills, gain experience and manage their careers is vital to keep them engaged and productive,” she said.

Here’s how to handle employees who need a role change – and how to avoid the issue in the future.

Changing roles within a company

Before you even start to look into the career transition process, you should be networking within your organization. This could be as easy as grabbing coffee or lunch with a colleague to get a sense of different departments’ workplace cultures. This is also an opportunity for employees in other departments to learn about your talents and how these talents might be better utilized in a different department.

“If someone’s struggle in a role is about company culture, that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to leave the company outright,” Zucker said. “A transition to another department might just do the trick, as different departments can have vastly different cultures.”

If you do your research and networking beforehand, your chances of a successful transfer will be better.

Employee strategies for an internal career transition

Once you’ve managed to get a new role within your organization, your work isn’t over just because you got the job. Actively building relationships with your new cohorts is the key to success.

“Don’t just focus on your direct manager,” said Zucker. “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.”

There are also strategies for an employee to take charge of their transition’s success. Soliciting regular feedback is crucial to assess how you’re doing in the new role. Don’t think of it as scheduled criticism, but as an opportunity to learn about your new professional environment.

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 have. Then, when you want to introduce new ideas and past experiences, it will be better received with the knowledge that you first took the time to understand the new role and department.

Business strategies for an internal employee transition

If you’re the manager and an employee isn’t as well suited to a role as you thought, don’t automatically write them off. Before making any decisions, speak with the employee, encouraging them to be open about what they expect from their role in the company.

“Ask your employees questions and discuss how they want to learn and develop,” said Millikan. “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.”

Jennifer Martin, a principal business consultant at Zest Business Consulting, said you should find out if the employee has a skill or talent that is underutilized in their current position. This entails more than just asking if there’s something they’d rather be doing, she added. Rather, you should ask them if the company is getting their best work and how they could put their skills to better use.

Angie Nuttle, CEO of talent and organizational development consulting firm Corporate Talent Institute, suggested giving the employee feedback on what they are doing well and finding ways to maximize it.

If an organization’s leadership is helping an employee transition within the company, it is important to ensure the individual successfully finds whatever they felt they were missing in their old position. A transition management process includes a team to facilitate the transition and a job transition plan as streamlined ways to get the employee up to speed in their new role.

According to Zucker, the job transition plan usually lasts around 90 days and has the main goals of maximizing the transition’s impact and assimilating the employee into your organization. If the employee is transitioning from one role to another within your company, you can gloss over some parts of the onboarding process that brand-new company employees would receive. However, this is not an excuse to throw the employee straight into their new role without any training.

In addition to the logistical arrangements of the employee transition, some attention to onboarding and support will be necessary from human resources. A recent survey showed that 76% of surveyed HR professionals said the onboarding process “isn’t just for new employees.” Especially if there is a significant departmental change, HR and department supervisors should collaborate to arrange for current employees to take the new employee around for introductions, take them to lunch and perhaps pair them up in a mentorship program so that they feel supported through all stages of the transition.

As much as it is the responsibility of the employee to solicit feedback and ask questions, it is crucial for organizational leadership to make sure both parties have clear agreements on how they will work together, how feedback will be given, and what success looks like during the transition plan.

It is important to ensure the transitioning employee feels secure and successful. During this time, do not underestimate the importance of listening to and supporting the needs of equal-rank and lower-rank employees. An internal career transition should bring several people to the conversation table, not just those at the executive level. The best way to maximize the possibility of a successful transition is to make sure everyone, within reason, is on board with the transition.

Redeploying misplaced talent

The transition from one role to another doesn’t have to be difficult, and it shouldn’t feel like an inconvenience to you or your employees.

“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,” said Millikan.

Nuttle said it’s important to give employees some control over the situation too; don’t let them feel like it’s something being done to them. “Let them know your goal is to help them develop to their most full potential and capacity, and mean it.”

Work with your employee as a team, making sure they understand that you are on their side and want them to stay with the company.

“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.

Career transition to a new company

Outplacement is when an organization provides career transition support to an employee who is fully exiting the business. This process aims to preserve the relationship between the employee and business, but it can also include involved assistance such as career transition services.

“Career transition services are invaluable for individuals looking to transition to a new organization,” Zucker said.

Employee transition strategies for leaving an organization

Zucker said that job searching is a lonely experience, so it’s important to have a partner who provides both tactical and emotional coaching during your search. Your transition experience can be an emotional roller coaster; a transition service or consultant provides support and manages your hopes and expectations for the transition.

“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.”

Even if your time at your previous organization did not end the way you would have liked, try to keep those channels of communication open for the sake of future networking and preserving those cultivated relationships. Especially if this organization has a strong alumni network, you never know when you could cash in social and professional capital to secure your next opportunity.

Business strategies for successful outplacement

Just as there are countless reasons why an individual enters a role, there many reasons an employee leaves a role. For the purposes of all these transition strategies, it is important to remember that not all exits are ill-natured, and even for ones that are, there are still benefits to outplacement.

“Always think of your employees as future customers or clients,” said Zucker.

While this sounds transactional, it just means that the employee experience does not end when the employee leaves your company. Your organization can continue to promote employee wellness beyond their time working for your business. For example, when conducting an exit interview, managers can gain insight into the exiting employee’s experiences and also address lingering concerns and feedback from the employee. By providing this opportunity for honest feedback, you let your former employee feel heard and valued. If an employee leaves to be an entrepreneur, for example, 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.

During the outplacement process, your organization can provide career transition support to exiting employees and engage in transition programs. For some organizations, this means giving extra attention and support to displaced employees as they transition to another company. This support could include a tight-knit, visible alumni network that provides avenues for the organization to stay in contact with former employees, but also 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.

An employee-first company or organization will carry those practices throughout the employee’s time with the business. This includes the employee transition process either within or out of your company business. When the business and the employee craft clear agreements and consistently revisit performance and expectations, it fosters a successful career that lifts up the talents and goodwill of both the employee and the business itself.

Sammi Caramela and Brittney Morgan contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Image Credit: Uber Images / Shutterstock
Rebecka Green
Rebecka Green
Contributing 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.