The first 90 days in a new role are critical. The most successful leaders take this time to learn, promote themselves, build coalitions, and mobilize their teams, says Harvard Business School professor, Michael Watkins (who spent three years researching the topic).

Since his book, The First 90 Days, leaders and onboarding specialists have stressed the importance of this timeframe as a means to maximize employees' effectiveness. 

While the first 90 days is undoubtedly an important period for personal progress it has little to do with how you'll be remembered says behavioral research. In a LinkedIn article Sally Blount, Dean at Kellogg School of Management, argues that it's the last 90 days that play the biggest role in building a strong legacy. 

"...behavioral research by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and others shows that assessments of human performance (i.e., a leader's reputation/legacy) will be most heavily influenced by endpoints. Why? Because the information about how a tenure ends will always be more accessible in people's memories than the impressions created at the start."

Whether you're accepting a new position, receiving a promotion, or retiring, it's important that you leave on a good note. Here are a couple vital lessons I've learned after witnessing a few transitions. 

Address the obvious question to keep employees engaged. 

When I first learned that my manager was leaving, I was a little panicked. Not only did they drive all of my work, but they also represented an entire function. I'm not going to lie, I was nervous. Without their presence and direction, a lot of things were going to change -- and one of those changes could have been my job. 

When a leader leaves, the rest of the team can feel like a ship without a captain. After the initial shock where's off and people come to terms with the news, the very next thought on everyone's mind is "what's going to happen to me?" 

After announcing your transition, make sure you connect with employees and provide what assurance you can. The last thing you want to do is incite panic and for employees to lose productivity worrying about the unknown.

Any details and direction that you can provide on the new structure will help ease the tension, alleviate anxiety and maintain the momentum you've built up to this point. I loved the way that Blount described this, 

"The strongest leaders work to prevent this type of momentum loss. They reinforce priorities, motivate flow in decision-making and focus on customers -- to the last day. They coach team members to thoughtfully prepare for, but not over-analyze, the transition. They have the wisdom to signal which strategic decisions should be postponed for the next leader, while assuring that the majority get handled."

I was fortunate enough to have leaders that understood the sensitivity. Before they brought the team in to disclose the news, they had met with senior leaders and mapped out a plan. They knew who we would be reporting to and what we'd be doing. By taking the time to plan, they ensured our roles, relationships and projects stayed intact. 

Ensure a smooth handoff so you don't leave your team in a bind.

As part of my manager's transition, they let me sit in on their vendor calls, provided status updates on all of our projects, and introduced me to key stakeholders whom I would have never met otherwise. They used the little bit of influence and time they had left to help me be successful. 

Don't leave the team with a mess. Use the transition time to organize projects, delegate important tasks, impart wisdom and educate other leaders on your team's work. Although you may be excited about your new opportunity, now's not the time to mentally check out. Your last 90 days should be some of the best work you've ever done.

Also, if its possible, help groom your predecessor to ensure nothing falls through the cracks. If that's not an option, then make sure your team is equipped to provide a download in your absence. 

Putting more time an effort into a role that you're leaving may go against your instincts. But, in the process of making sure everyone is prepared for your transition, you'll leave a lasting impression says Blount,

"A leadership transition can deliver one of the rarest organizational sightings: a robust pass from one leader to the next. It happens when the outgoing leader maintains integrity and focus. When the leader coaches the team on performance right up to the end, while setting their successor up for success."

Although a knee-jerk reaction is to blow off remaining responsibilities and jump head first into your new position, taking a step back and facilitating a smooth transition will ensure you don't burn any bridges.

Published on: Feb 27, 2018