My New Gig: Lessons Learned from Transitioning to a New Role

On to the Next Set of Challenges
On to the Next Set of Challenges

On July 1 2011, after nearly 8 years at VMware and 5 1/2 years working within the VMware Technical Services organization, I transitioned to a new role looking after Product Marketing on the VMware Horizon team. I learned a few lessons during this past week that I thought I would share.

First things first - I feel like the luckiest guy on the planet...having spent time on a team with some of the most gifted individuals I've ever worked with, I am fortunate enough to join another team of equally gifted athletes.

Change Company vs. Change Role

Most career changes involve moving from one company to the next, often into a more senior position, but within the same type of role. My transition was from a Technical Services role to a Product Marketing role. While many of the "change company" issues are mitigated when transitioning within the same company, there are several "change role" issues that I met head on.

Let it Go

This is the super-critical point that makes all of the difference. Remaining within the same company means that the transition time is really close to zero. In a fast paced and fast growing company like VMware, you don't get to take a few weeks off to recharge. You've really got to build the transition into the time between your last day in your old role and the first day in your new role. If you're lucky, you get a weekend in between those two dates. I was extremely fortunate that my team, peers and management were so supportive, I was able to build a transition plan, work with the necessary folks on transition, and get thinking about the new role almost immediately. The organizations within VMware acted in accordance with Best Practices and my experience in the transition was about as good as it can get. Ultimately, I realized that everything was in expert hands, and I was able to let go.

Lesson: Once the decision around a transition is communicated, the company, the organization, management and peers need to get behind the change and LET THE PERSON MOVE ON. As the person transitioning, you've got to let go too.

Communicate and Press the Flesh

You would think that transitioning roles within the same company means that you can go light on the communications because people will "find out through normal processes". I took a different approach and have been meeting with people on the team I am transitioning to as well as meeting with several people I routinely worked with in the previous role. Why? Because of 2 super important reasons. First, obviously you've got to meet the new people that are stakeholders in your new role: the people that you'll be working with, depending on, providing services, etc. Secondly, because you need to develop an "outside-in" view of the role you're entering. What do other people think the role is about? What do people think it is important for you to get done quickly? Don't take the job description at face value. Definitely don't fall prey to the trap of "well I work in this company so I kind of know what the role is". Take the little time you have to meet with as many people as possible to forge the beginning of new relationships. Figure out what the real role is, who the real stakeholders are, and what the real impact of your work will be. Meeting with people that you already know gives you a chance to reset the context of your working relationship in your new role. I've found that doing this simple thing has created a support system. People with whom I worked in my previous role, are able to provide advice, insight, and context to the work I have to do in the new role.

Lesson: Treat the transition as if you did change companies and meet meet with as many people as possible. Don't forget to meet with the people you know, reset the context with them and develop an outside-in view of your new role.

Rest the Brain

I've been fortunate that in every new role I've been in, I've been surrounded by exceptionally gifted, knowledgeable, and whip smart people. Before my transition last week, I was in the same general role for about 3 years. During that amount of time in the same role, you become very efficient. You have a stable network of people. You know the processes, procedures. You have tools, templates, etc that enable high productivity. After years in a role, there are few unknowns.

Contrast that with the first week of a new job. In the first week in a new role, almost everything is an unknown. Furthermore, don't know how many more unknowns you have to uncover. You learn something in every meeting, every email you're copied on, every discussion you have. As the number of discussions you have scales up, so does the to-do list. After a week, you've got a pile of notes, emails, and documents. And more unknowns. You work hard to connect the dots between what you're learning. Ultimately, I scheduled time to review the pile. I spent some time building a framework that enabled me to "bucket" new issues, projects, emergencies, into the proper place. Without making this time to synthesize, starting week #2 would be a lot harder.

Lesson: Your Brain is a muscle - it gets a lot of exercise when you transition to a new role. Set aside time to rest your brain by reviewing what you're learning to synthesize, get context and stay focused on priorities.

I am now officially in the 3rd new role of my nearly 8 years at VMware, and I am absolutely loving it! I am so fortunate to work within a company that embraces the movement of its people around the organization. I think the "talent migration" at the company keeps it small, connected, a ton of fun, and absolutely filled with opportunity.

Let me know what you think!

- PG