Congratulations …… you’ve been promoted!
You’ve been hoping for this chance for some time and you’re very excited about the new challenges and increased responsibilities the role is going to give you. More money in your pay will also be very welcome.
The day comes to start and you take up your position at your new desk. Your first morning is easy enough, with a morning tea to welcome you and some quiet time in front of your computer to complete an online induction. Then, after lunch everything seems to hit you at once. 2 of your team members come to you wanting you to sort out a major argument that’s threatening to get out of control, your manager wants you to complete a report that is already 2 weeks overdue and you’re asked to present the very next morning to a group of 80 people on a topic you know very little about. You’ve also picked up that some of your team members are unhappy that you’re in the role, thinking they deserved the opportunity.
By the time you arrive home feelings of anxiety and concern have replaced the feelings of excitement and anticipation you had. A headache forces you to go to bed early but it takes you hours to get to sleep as you can’t stop replaying the events of the day and thinking about the challenges ahead. After just one day you’re beginning to doubt whether you’ve made the right decision in taking on the role.
The Challenging Reality of Promotions
Feelings of overwhelm and anxiety are common at time of promotion. When we’re selected for higher level positions it’s exciting and affirming for us. When we start in these new roles, though, the high expectations and unfamiliar nature of the work can really take their toll. A 2008 study which tracked health outcomes following promotions found that mental health typically declines by approximately 10% after people take on higher level positions (Boyce and Ozwald, University of Warwick). In other research, conducted by consulting group DDI, managers rated the level of stress arising from job promotions at or even above the level of stress associated with divorce or loss of a loved one.
So How Do We Go About Surviving Promotions?
So how do we go about surviving promotions, and make a start on higher-level roles in a way that’s going to help us be happy and successful? Here are some tips, drawn from the times when I’ve faced this challenge in my own career and also from the coaching work I’ve done with people who’ve been recently promoted:
1. Be patient with yourself
If you expect to know everything on week one in your new role you’ll be very disappointed, and if you try to fix everything in the first month you’ll quickly burn out. Give yourself time to settle in, and build a solid base of understanding before you try to go forward at full speed. While you are doing this it will probably feel that you are not achieving much. On the contrary, you are building the kind of base that is essential for longer term success in your role.
2. Watch, listen and ask
Steven Covey, in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said that we must “seek first to understand then be understood”. This is especially good advice for people who have just been promoted. One of the most important things during this period is to observe and learn. Watch carefully, not just for the obvious things but for clues to what may be hidden, and listen carefully in meetings and discussions for useful information. As for questions, it’s hard to ask too many. Not only will good questions give you valuable information but they will give the people you ask a sense that you value their opinions.
3. Get some runs on the board by tacking something easy and safe
When you start in a new role you’re in the dark in lots of ways. You do, however, possess one very strong asset – fresh eyes which will let you quickly see some improvement opportunities that are invisible to others. Choose an improvement opportunity that’s at the easy/ safe end of the spectrum and take steps to sort it out, with the help of your team. Achieving an early win of this type will alleviate some of your impatience to get things done and will be an important confidence builder as you find your feet.
4. Focus on relationships
Moving into a leadership role in an existing team is always challenging. For example, there’s a good chance that at least one person in the team believes that they deserve the role more than you do, and there is bound to be other team politics to manage. At this early stage, one of your most important jobs is building relationships with team members. Don’t just focus on work – try to gain a sense of the whole person and, in turn, reveal some personal things about yourself. Where possible its best if you can start from an assumption of trust rather than believing all you hear from others.
5. Ask your manager what he or she most needs from you
It’s impossible to keep 100 plates spinning at the one time so you’ll need to gain a clear picture early about which of the plates you can’t afford to let fall. Your manager will be best placed to give you this information so make sure you ask enough questions to get clarity around this. Team members will also be able to provide useful input, although each will obviously provide advice from the subjective perspective of her or his own role.
6. Say “no” (or at least a conditional “yes”) when you need to
It surprises me how many people rarely or never say no to requests at work. These people often end up drowning under an unrealistic load. When you’re brand new in a job you’ll obviously be wanting to be saying yes where you can. However, there will be times when you will need to say “no” or, at least, attach some conditions to your yes. For example, a request to compile a report might require a “I’d be happy to get that to you but given all I have on it won’t be until next Tuesday”. This will give you a more realistic workload as you settle in and it will set up a sustainable pattern of expectations which will serve you well down the track.
7. Manage your energy levels
When you start a new job it’s very easy to fall into habits that sap you of energy and make it likely that you will struggle. To counter this make sure you set a firm time to leave work each day, avoid the constant lure to check emails out of hours, maintain a healthy diet, get some exercise and stick to a sensible sleep routine. These things will give you the kind of energy you need to perform at your best and will enable you to cope with whatever comes your way.
Promotions are exciting and they can also be challenging. Applying the tips outlined above will give you a good chance of putting your best foot forward and establishing the kind of foundation that will make you very successful in your role. Good luck!