How to Change Roles in Your Company (Without Ruffling Feathers)

moving up internally

You’ve identified a project or team in your company that would make for a great career development opportunity.

It’s a chance to grow, spread your wings a bit, and position yourself for future success. It also means you’ll be leaving your current team and managers.

How do you tackle moving to that new space without hurting feelings, seeming ungrateful, or burning a bridge you may need later on?

Here are a few steps to take when you’re contemplating such a move.

1. Meet with your supervisor

The first step, when you’ve identified a goal but before you’ve begun the process of trying to reach it, is to meet with your supervisor or manager and talk it through. Before you meet, it’s a good idea to let them known in advance that you want to discuss your career development and that you value their opinion.

In preparing for the meeting, think through different scenarios about how the conversation might go and how you will respond. During the meeting explain your thought process and why you think it might be a good career move for you to move to a new team. Let them know you respect their opinion and didn’t want to make a move without hearing it. Make sure to discuss what you’ve learned in your current role and how thankful you are for the opportunity they provided you. Set up your supervisor to become your advocate for this move, rather than creating a situation where they feel they’re being left behind.

They may provide valuable insight that can help you in your new role. They’ll certainly be asked about you by the new project team.

Do all of this before you apply for the new position. If you don’t get it, you don’t want hurt feelings from your supervisor thinking you were leaving them. Don’t talk to your co-workers about it (yet) either. Make sure the boss hears it from you and not anyone else in the company.

2. Talk to your co-workers

Once your move has been confirmed, ask your supervisors if it’s OK for you to talk to your current team and let them know before there’s a company-wide announcement. This lets your co-workers know you value them and gives you a chance to explain the move before they get a memo. When they know what’s happening, they’re more likely to be supportive.

In any case, you should have conversations with the key members of your current team and explain the logic behind your move. It’s not that you’re leaving them behind, it’s that you’re making a positive career step forward. They really should be happy for you – even if they are a little sad you won’t be there with them in the trenches every day.

3. Give proper notice & work up until the last minute

There’s a good chance that your current and new manager will get together and work out your transition period. You’ll want both of them to know that you’re committed to wrapping things up in your current position before you move so that they can have a frank discussion about when they each need you.

For an internal move, don’t assume the standard “two weeks notice” period applies, you’ll need to be a bit more flexible. If you’re in the middle of a major project, there may need to be an extended time before you leave. If there’s a month’s work of work you’re dumping on someone else by leaving before it’s done, you’re likely burning a bridge.

Work hard right up until the last minute of the last day. People may forget the late nights and extra hours you put into projects but they’ll remember if they think you were slacking off in the last few weeks. That’s not the kind of reputation you want and not what you want future employers to hear if they call for a reference check from someone on your current team. Plus, you’re still part of the larger company team and you want to keep your reputation strong.

4. Offer to train your replacement and document your duties

If you do move to a new team, offer to train your replacement or document your job duties so the next person in the seat is better prepared. There’s a strong likelihood your current boss and team members don’t know everything you do day-to-day.

If a new hire hasn’t been made before your move, document your job even if your supervisor says it’s not necessary. You’re not just helping the boss. You’ll also be helping your current team members who will likely have to pick up your job duties until a new person is hired. Make sure they are aware of reports or anything on a timeline, such as:

  • Daily or weekly reports
  • Login and password credentials (if appropriate)
  • Client or customer lists
  • Scheduled meetings
  • Status of all pending projects

5. Offer continuing support during your transition

After you leave the current team, they’ll still be there working hard to accomplish company goals. You want to continue to be their biggest cheerleader. Make sure you leave your contact information and encourage everyone to reach out if they need help. Offer your continuing support and willingness to help contribute to their success.

After you are in the new role, stay in touch with your old supervisor and teammates. Celebrate their wins and let them know you’re cheering for them.

6. Control the emotional environment

Some co-workers may be sad you’re leaving. It’s easy to get close to those you work with every day. Others may be envious of your new role. Yet others may be mad they’re not getting the opportunity and recognition you are. This is where you’ll have to display Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is the ability to control your own emotions, recognizing how others are feeling, and adapting to the environment.

  • Avoid “bragging” about your new role to those that may feel they were passed over.
  • Avoid talking about excited you are about your new role without acknowledging that you will miss the team
  • Thank team members for their contributions to your development that led to this new opportunity.

Making the move to grow in your career should be an exciting time for you. Take these six steps to make sure your current team can share that excitement and support you as you advance.

One of your co-workers or bosses may be in a position to help (or hurt) your chances for your next job. Make sure you leave them thinking only positive thoughts.

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About the Author

Paul Dughi has been in executive management positions in the media industry for the past 25 years. At age 55, he earned his MBA in Business Administration while working full-time as President of a multi-station TV group. He is the author of two books on Marketing and Management.