An Open Letter on Transition
Recently I went through a professional transition, leaving a job and a staff I loved to assume greater responsibility and new opportunities. While I was enthusiastic to accept a new challenge, I was proud to have been a part of a great admissions team at a great institution.
Because of my deep affection for the place and the people, I wanted to help ensure my former staff would continue successfully under new leadership. Leaders hold a professional obligation to the future success of the institutions we leave behind. I believe we can meet this obligation by taking steps to aid in a successful transition.
With these ideas in mind, I wrote the following letter to my former staff.
I have been thinking about each of you and wanted to write you prior to the arrival of my successor. I thought it might be helpful to provide some tips on good transitions. Below are some things you probably already know, but they may be worth repeating.
1. Make your new leader welcome. Go out of your way to say hello. Keep the new vice president posted on what you are doing. If a group of you are going to lunch, extend an invite. Continue to offer an invitation, even if the answer is no at first. Ask about the person's move. Simply saying "good morning" and "good evening" will go a long way.
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Update your distribution lists and copy him or her on important items. Explain the "little things" about our institution that only insiders would know, such as terms that only you use; every office has its own lexicon. The new VP may feel alienated by "insider" language.
3. Ask for permission rather than forgiveness. Until you've developed trust and respect, let the new VP know about your projects, challenges, and concerns. Say: "I don't know if you want to know this, but I thought I'd bring it to your attention." Keep the new VP over-informed, but not overwhelmed.
4. Be patient. Give the VP time to settle in and understand the institutional landscape. He or she will be trying to please lots of audiences and there will be occasions when you all might take the "back seat." Be patient. Your new leader will soon come to know how terrific you are and will value you and your input the same way I did. For the time being, exercise patience. I am sure that some decisions have been waiting for your new leader's arrival, but don't bombard your new leader with things that are waiting.
5. Ask for feedback. From experience, I know the "new guy" doesn't want to just come in and offer an opinion about everything. Yet, he or she will have an opinion about everything. Invite input, rather than wait for it. It's gratifying to be asked, "What do you think of this?" or "How do you think this went?" or "What might we consider next time?" Ask: "What did you do at your previous institution?" This will help avoid hearing the new leader repeat the refrain, "At my previous institution, we did this ...." It won't drive you as crazy if you invite your new leader to discuss that institution as it would if you put him or her in a position where you have to be told.
6. Stay focused. Your job continues to be helping students make a good college choice and transition successfully to college life. Personnel and other changes should not distract you.
7. Be yourself and stay positive. Avoid using phrases like "there are going to be a lot of changes" or "things are going to be different." Using phrases like these in public feeds the rumor mill by making it seem as if things aren't going well. Change is not always bad. The one thing that won't change is the fact that each of you possesses remarkable abilities, and once you demonstrate those abilities to the new VP, he or she will come to appreciate your talent and dedication as much as I have.
Best of luck. I look forward to seeing what levels of success you will rise to under your new leadership. Stay in touch and let me know if there is ever anything I can do.
W. Kent Barnds is vice president for Enrollment at Augustana College (Ill.). Previously, he served as vice president for Enrollment at Elizabethtown College (Pa.).
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