Article Review of: Taking the Right Transition Strategy By Michael Dave Watkins

1. Leaders in transition reflexively rely on the skills and strategies that worked for them in the past, but those approaches won't necessarily work in new environments.

2. To move seamlessly into new roles, executives need an accurate read of the business situation at hand—for instance, are they moving into a turnaround or a simple realignment of operations?

3. Using the STARS model, new leaders can figure out which state the company is in and, more important, how to tailor their strategies for organizational and personal change accordingly.

4. The end results? Strong leadership right out of the gate, plus a common language for change that can accelerate everyone's transition into new roles and opportunities.

Leaders in transition reflexively rely on the skills and strategies that worked for them in the past.  That's a mistake. 

One leadership style does not fit all.

Research suggests that six fundamental principles will help leaders make effective transitions into new roles. The type of business environment dictates how those principles should be applied. Here's a close look at turnarounds and realignments, which call for very different strategies.

1. Organize to learn. - Figure out what you most need to learn, from whom, and how you can best learn it.


  • Focus on technical learning, strategy, markets, technologies, and so on.

  • Prepare that quickly.


  • Focus on cultural and political learning.

  • Prepare to act deliberately.

2. Define strategic intent. - Develop and communicate a compelling vision for what the organization will become. Outline a clear strategy for achieving that vision.


  • Prune non-core businesses.


  • Hone and leverage existing capabilities.

  • Stimulate innovation.

3. Establish A-item priorities. - Identify a few vital goals and pursue them relentlessly. Think about what you need to have accomplished by the end of year one in the new position.


  • Make faster, bolder moves.

  • Focus on strategy and structure.


  • Make slower, more deliberate moves.

  • Focus on systems, skills and cultures.

4. Build the leadership team. - Evaluate the team you inherited. Move deftly to make the necessary changes; find the optimal balance between bringing in outside talent and elevating high potentials within the organization.


  • Clean house at the top.

  • Recruit external talent.


  • Make a few important changes.

  • Promote high potentials from within.

5. Secure early wins. - Think through how you plan to “arrive” in the new organization. Find ways to build personal credibility energize the ranks.


  • Shift the organizational mindset from despair to hope.


  • Shift the organizational mindset from denial to awareness.


6. Create supporting alliances. - Identify how the organization really works and who has influence. Create key coalitions in support of your initiatives.


  • Gain support from bosses and other stakeholders to invest the required resources.


  • Build alliances sideways and down to ensure better execution.

Idea in practice. 

Once you understand the state of the organization initiative you're heading up, you can more effectively apply certain fundamental principles (several of them listed here) to ease your transition and increase your odds of long-term success.  Your business situation should shape how you apply those principles.  Turnarounds and realignments, for instance, require distinct approaches. 

Organize to learn about the business.


In turnarounds, the situation is dire.  Managers need to rapidly assess a company's strategy, competitor's products, markets and technologies. 

In realignments, there is smoke but no fire—yet.  Technical comprehension is important, but more crucial is learning how to navigate the cultural and political landscape. 

Build the leadership team fast. 


In turnarounds, managers will often clean house at the top of the organization and recruit the senior talent from the outside. 

In realignments, the leadership team may be quite strong, albeit in need of a few high pay off changes (firing those who don't support the new vision or promoting high potentials with innovative ideas). 

Establish A-Item Priorities. 


In turnarounds, the strategy and organizational structure of the business are preventing it from achieving its goals.  Managers need to address shortcomings immediately—for instance, by slashing costs. 

In realignments, strategies and structure usually aren't broken—at least not beyond the point of repair.  Initially, managers need to focus on systems, skills and culture.  For instance, they may ask: “Does our culture encourage firefighting or collaborative problem solving?” 

Identify where you can secure early wins. 


In turnarounds, managers can achieve critical early wins by moving people from a state of despair to one of hope—for instance, by closing ailing plants and shifting production to refocus the organization on its core strengths.

In Realignments

Often, the most important early win is to raise people's awareness of the need for change.  One way a manager can accomplish this is by revamping performance metrics in manufacturing or customer service to focus employees' attention on critical weaknesses in those areas.