When we move an employee to a new role, we often assume they're completely ready to take on the new challenges. But that's not always true.

There should always be a support system to help with that transition. However, when leaders fail to aid the employee through the change, things can fall apart fast. What's difficult, is knowing exactly what support to offer.

For instance, I've seen many employees moved from an internship or a part-time role to one with more responsibility. Their boss simply congratulated them on the new title and threw them into the deep end. Unsurprisingly, those employees drowned and left their companies feeling overwhelmed.  

As a leader, it's your job to help employees through transitions. Otherwise, you're setting them up for failure. Here are three ways to offer support:

1. Start preparations yesterday.

As with any transition, moving an employee takes planning. The earlier you start preparing, the smoother things will go.

At Vancouver-based online bookkeeping company Bench, planning begins as soon as any of their more than 250 employees start expressing interest in a new skill or role. The company believes managers must be active and supportive of employees going through transitions.

"We encourage regular career-oriented conversations to help employees figure out their next steps. This keeps everyone in the know and ensures there is a living, breathing development plan," VP of operations Emily Key said.

Having these plans in place also keeps employees engaged. They're continually working toward a goal. This keeps them from disengaging in their current role.

2. Let employees walk before they run.

Don't throw employees into the deep end. If you drop multiple new responsibilities in their lap at once, they will be overwhelmed. Instead, offer new challenges over time.

Celita Sporl is now the global HR specialist of the Salt Lake City-based educational tech company, Instructure, which is used by more than 3,000 educational institutions around the world. But, she started out as a receptionist. Over the years, her managers gave her new tasks and projects so she could develop her knowledge of HR. This allowed her to slowly transition into a more senior role.

In fact, Jeff Weber, the senior vice president of people and places at Instructure, says this is a key pillar of the company's management style. Managers are always on the lookout for employees with potential.

Train managers so that they develop an eye for potential. If they oversee entry-level employees, let them know which skills are necessary at the next level.

Once these employees have been identified, start small. For example, if they are showing an aptitude for leadership, put them in charge of a small project. Give them a chance to organize a team and learn on a small scale.

After the project is over, sit down with the employee and go into the successes and failures. If they seem ready, give them a bigger task to lead. If not, focus on what skills they need to develop further to be successful.

3. Restart onboarding.

Current employees understand the company culture. They know their co-workers. They're familiar with the company policies. But that doesn't mean they can't benefit from onboarding. At the New York-based subscription beauty giant Birchbox, all employees are put through a new onboarding plan when they transition roles.

"We have no expectation that they know certain things just because they currently work for the company," Melissa Enbar, the vice president of people and culture at Birchbox, said.

This gives you time to retune the basics before a big change. Remind employees about the company values and mission. Show them how those are supported by their new role.

For many employees, this might seem unnecessary. But remind them that by shifting into a new role, they also need to shift their perception about the company. They will fit into the organization in a different way. It's important for them to understand the new expectations being set for them.

Published on: Jan 18, 2018