Lost in Transition?

Three quotes you should not ignore while navigating the road to success

Lost in Transition

How can someone you thought was brilliant when you hired him/her for a new job position, with an outstanding track record, someone who had been such a success in the past at all their other jobs, suddenly turn into an overnight disaster?

Why does someone you believed was the perfect fit and right person for the job turn out to be such a disappointment?

I began my quest for answers regarding the underlying factors that determine the success or failure of a transition more than ten years ago. Those exact questions haunted my career at the time. I was 27 then and had just taken over a CFO position in a smaller company. The idea of failure was completely unimaginable to me. I believed I could solve anything with my talent, potential, technical skills, and hard work. Not surprisingly, in ignoring what you could call the Dos and Don’ts of a new job, I nearly failed magnificently – and this lesson was quite painful to learn.

There was no team in place, nor was there any great history, and there was a whole range of challenging problems that I was unaware of. All this was happening in-between of four different cultures. During the first few months, for several days in a row, I was working 20+ hours every day, and collapsing in bed for the entire weekend. Despite repeated warnings from friends, I stuck to my mantra of, “As long as my brain can make it, my body will follow,” until my body failed to listen to me. I ended up in the hospital, weighing less than 40 kg exactly three months after I started my role there. I certainly didn’t begin right.

While only just settling in my new role, I severely criticized the existing situation, continuously repeating: ”How could you let things get like this?”. Yet, the previous finance manager was there to help me in the afternoons, despite his own job, which he had just begun. Two of my American colleagues came just to help me. What I didn’t know was how bad it was before, and that in the previous year, they had been working round-the-clock to solve the myriad issues at the company. I was continually giving examples of how “we did it before,” referring to my previous company. I definitely didn’t make a good first impression.

I had left a very reputable company, where I was regularly recognized and well-respected for my hard work, expertise and consistently excellent results. I was one of the rising talents, considered to have great potential. I thought the reputation followed me in the new environment, and I was ignoring the fact that I needed to prove myself, and it could only be done through high performance.

How could someone who was such a success in the past now be such a failure? Over the next ten years, I was able to see from different perspectives, asking the same questions after hiring for senior positions on my team. How could someone who you thought was going to be so brilliant, who had such a good track record, who had been such a success in the past at all their other jobs, suddenly turn into a disaster overnight? How could I help him/her to gain insight?

One moment you’re the star, and then before you know it, you’re flat on your back, struggling. Also, failure to understand the overall process of change and transition can bring you quickly into a burnout situation that can negatively impact several years of your career. It can be challenging to bounce back from it.

In a 1997 report by Dow Jones & Co., published in the Wall Street Journal[1], the role of a senior executive was in the top highest scores reflecting levels of stress encountered. In 2018, the job position maintained a place in the top ten causes[2] of this stress were listed as being due to “brutal hours, intense pressure to succeed, and the ever-stressful task of managing difficult employees.”[3]

It is easy to lose your way in the middle of a transition, even if the odds were initially on your side. You may quickly face a crisis situation, torn between the increased internal expectations and external pressure and the urgency to show early results. It is a struggle sometimes to adjust to the culture and is usually very challenging to connect to your new team.

The loss of control appears with the frustration of instituting change, the trouble of unleashing your full potential which exponentially increases when the new company lets you prove yourself in a sink-or-swim situation.

Whatever happens in the first few months will either set you up for success or failure. If things go wrong, not only will the company lose the advantage of your full potential, but you may also damage the company with negative results, decreased employee morale, and cause a costly turnover.

So, why should we even give a second thought to how to approach the transition into a new job?

1. “Well-begun is half-done.” Aristotle

…or as Plato said, “The beginning is the most important part of the walk. ”Undoubtedly, beginnings are critical. The way a story starts matters. The first lines of a book, to be published, or the opening sequences from a film, to continue to be watched, are essential. The first few weeks after kids starts school may either set them up for great memories or haunt their future years.

The story’s opener is a great opportunity to captivate the audience or risk having them put aside and completely ignore your work, sometimes forever. While writers and film directors have editing opportunities and multiple revision stages, in real life, if you want to fix errors, the efforts required are considerably multiplied.

Why do leaders fail to begin right from the start in their new position? What can you do to prevent it?

From my “near-failure” experience, I’ve learned invaluable lessons. A crucial one is that, not only are we allowed to ask for help, but it is also a must and a sign of strength. It was my first lesson in humility, and I don’t think I could have had a better one. It taught me to ask for support and reach out to the right people to count on, both in professional and personal situations. Also, all that helped me understand better how hard it can be to ask for help.

When I stopped thinking I could do it alone and asked for help, my previous colleagues and collaborators stood up and supported me. I had a great team of auditors and consultants, and I learned amazing things. I was very fortunate to have met these amazing people to spur my growth. I didn’t give up, and they believed in me, guided me, and encouraged me in the first three months and beyond.

2. You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Good Impression!

It is said that you have less than one-tenth of a second to make a good first impression.[4] I think this estimate is slightly extended in a professional environment. Yet I’m sure that all future decisions about whether we want to get closer to and include a person in our direct network or stay away from a new contact, will be based on the initial “value” we assign to a person. After that moment, we will need a more powerful and impactful experience to change our minds about the person[5], and that goes both ways.

We spend a good amount of time with key players during the induction-phase interviews, and we should not ignore these facts. Going by these first impressions, we might get extra support, or we will be severely ignored in future encounters. There is an important survival mechanism ingrained in us. One of the best ways to take advantage of a first impression is to give people a reason to trust and value you.[6]

What do we need to do for instant credibility? How can we build long-term trust?

Today I am convinced that a successful transition and real integration can happen only by listening and connecting to the new “system.” This was a critical point I also found in the survey and interviews I did in 2018-2019 on the topic of the onboarding and integration of new leaders.

You might think that everyone expects you to prove how much you know, as well as how much you can teach them. This is true but, only as a secondary requirement. In the beginning, it all starts with trust. Everyone wants you to recognize their efforts and acknowledge them, because people do the best they can, with what they know and what they have.

In my first painful transition, everything changed when I reached out to my new hired team and peers, beyond discussions about budgets and action plans. I started to understand what people want from a leader, and I began to change myself. I got the chance to meet my new boss, coach, and mentor who believed in me and contributed to my development.[7]

3. High potential equals zero value until transformed into high performance!

“The pattern of being designed as having high potential, followed by increased responsibility, followed by catastrophic failure is surprisingly common. The key for high-potential employees is to stay focused on the right priorities and learn how to manage their time.”[8]

Maxfield, 2018


Many companies fail to realize that “high potential” is not the same as “high performance.” Neither is the opposite true. Traditionally, a significant number of companies tend to select their next leaders from a noticeable pool of top-ranking performers.[9]

Those high potential’s early excellent performances appear to be dependent on their former company’s resources, culture, network, and colleagues. Most stars who switch firms “turn out to be meteors, quickly losing luster in their new setting.”[10]

What do companies expect from their new leaders? How do they define success?

A McKinsey study[11] shows that if a transition is successful, nine out of ten teams whose leaders had a successful transition go on to meet their three-year performance goals, have a 13 percent lower attrition risk and generate five percent more revenue and profit than average.

When leaders are not successful in transitions, the performance of their direct reports is 15 percent lower. Additionally, the direct reports have a 20 percent probability of being disengaged or leaving the organization than it would be with a high-performing leader. There is a common trend of high-potential hiring being given increased responsibility and within no time, catastrophic-level failure results.[12]

During tough times, a clear assessment and a structured recovery plan are essential. I was lucky and got a lot of help and guidance during my career. I was fortunate to build a solid base to make quick assessments and draft actions. A finance background helps. But it is not the case for everyone. This is when it becomes a considerable risk.

Alexandra Claes

Alexandra Claes

Developping targeted solutions to guide businesses & leadership in transition, to exceed expectations in performance and growth.

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on pinterest


Full Report
You can download now the complete report, with research, study, main titles, and suggestions from in-depth interviews with top level EMEA Managers.
Download here
Survey Report
Get the results of the onboarding survey, answers and in-depth interviews with top level EMEA Managers.
Send me the report

If you fail, or if it takes you longer than the average transition period to adjust, the company will either not be able to capture all the value expected, or worse, they lose money, creating negative value. Your career can be impacted in the long-term as well.
It can be even easier to navigate through change and succeed in a new role by having a clear and Structured Roadmap from the beginning.

Mastering the Technical Side of Transition: Strategy, Result is only one part of the equation. Equally important are the Emotional Mastery Practices we use to establish acceptance, drive change, gain credibility and trust, connect and integrate into the new team, share a vision, and be regarded as a mentor to develop others.

How do you ensure you inspire ingenuity and innovation? How do you ensure results that will improve your expert image even further?

Today, you have Leaders Transition Booster, developping targeted solutions to guide businesses & leadership in transition, to exceed expectations in performance and growth.
We help you, the new manager, or your newly hired leader, if you’re a company, to get you through a job change successfully and make sure you don’t skip the most important steps.

1. Scan and Position. Make a proper evaluation of the new environment. Listen, watch, observe, learn. Assess SWOTs: both yours and your new company’s. Know where you are. Identify where you want to go and why.

2. Develop a Strategy to get there. Define what is commonly acceptable by all stakeholders for reaching those goals.

3.  Define and build your plan. Integrate your resources, both human and material, and negotiate the deadlines.

4. Manage Performance in Execution. Launch quickly, get early feedback and adjust rapidly. Establish corrective actions and get your quick wins.

During the transition process, we show you how to reinforce your credibility factors: gain trust, prove expertise and inspire with your vision and mindset.

Do you have any thoughts to share on the reasons why one should not ignore the transition phase?

We’d love to hear from you. Let us know your opinions, challenges and successes in the comments below or email: alexandra@alexandraclaes.com. 


Alexandra Claes is Associated Certified Coach, ACC ICF, grounded with experience in Business and Leadership. She has more than 15 Years of Business and Industry Background, Coaching Methodology and Leadership development experience. Trainer NLP, Certified in Emotional Intelligence EQI2.0, trained in Neuroscience for Brain Heath and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Practitioner. Founder or Claes Consulting, a consulting company that teaches leaders practical, evidence-based strategies for maximising performance. Contact Alexandra HERE.

Get Started




© All rights reserved Alexandra Claes Cconsulting Coaching Training 2018-2020

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: