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Taking work transition seriously

Learning and Development practitioner Sarah Ireland shares her experience of managing the work transition to a new role, and a new sector.
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How do you successfully manage a transition to a new role, and a new sector? Sarah Ireland, Head of Learning and People Development for St Margaret’s Hospice in Somerset and formerly Regional Director Asia and Head of Organisation Effectiveness for Oxfam GB, shares her experience.

Eight months in to a new job I am wishing that I could take the break now that I should have taken between roles. Like many, I was eager to start and also curious and anxious about what the future held: I didn’t want to wait and I wanted to really manage the work transition between two different roles and organisations really well – for me.

Reflecting now, I feel confident that I suceeded in managing the transition well. What did that look like?

I was coming into a completely new sector so I needed to really listen, stay in inquiry mode and be curious. And I also needed to look for patterns and connections between this new world and my old one without being overly eager to share my expertise in spaces where it didn’t fit, whilst being brave enough to put forward thoughts and ideas which might move thinking along.

There was no place for ego in this transition, but there was room for a really authentic being who was genuinely interested and committed to what a new sector, organisation and team who could offer. Reminding myself that trust is earned over time (I taught it often enough) was a useful mantra.

There were moments when I was hit by fog and the feeling of confusion and lack of clarity was almost overwhelming. There were also a few moments when the excitement of doing something I really wanted to do (new sector, downscale, move laterally) was overtaken by a gnawing anxiety about my identity and status: where my value is measured only by seniority, how much I earn and working for a well-known international organisation.

Sometimes I was lonely – I missed my bright colleagues who understood me and often it felt like there was no-one to talk to. This struck me as an important part of transition, to not completely let go of the past (as would be my natural instinct) but keep engaging and don't be afraid to reach out if you need a chat to re-orientate yourself.

Being open about all of this really helped as I found people’s acceptance refreshing and the trust the organisation put in me humbling and a little confusing after battles with other systems. What was a real eye opener was being able to apply my experience and learning so quickly in what I perceived to be ‘difficult areas’ such as values, culture and relationships– the organisation was hungry and my experience of barriers and blocks have really helped me tune into what the organisation was saying to me and offer options not the option.

It’s been fun and I think my work transition is almost complete, I have found my place. Note to self – next time negotiate a transition break after 6 months in a new job!

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