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Journey Already in Progress – Welcome Aboard

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A roadmap for education administrators transitioning into new leadership roles on building projects

Remember the quintessential family road trip? Our road trips consisted of my wife and I and our two kids piled into the minivan. Sound familiar? The family road trip always included a starting point, an end point, and plenty of drama in the middle. Many months of careful planning occurred prior to departure: each traveler knew where we were going, what their specific job involved, and what was expected of them. I was always responsible for bringing the pretzel sticks.

Now imagine, with your road trip partially complete, trading one of your road trip members with someone completely new to the journey. Imagining his/her confusion and bewilderment trying to comprehend how you reached this specific point. Imagine the questions she/he has. What is the destination? What is my role on this journey? Who are these people with me and what are they doing? Are there roadblocks ahead? If these questions sound familiar, continue reading.

During several recent building projects, I have witnessed school district leadership changes in superintendents, business managers, and buildings and ground directors. These changes resulted in surprise and confusion for the entire project team and occurred due to a lack of project information download from previous leadership. The questions asked by our newly picked up road tripper are the same types of questions that arise with school district leadership change. However, most of these questions are asked after the predecessor is gone and the answers disappear.

To assist you during transition into your new role, I have outlined 4 critical points to pursue with your predecessor to help avoid confusion and bewilderment:

1.  Understand Your Role On the Journey.  Before you can be effective in your role, you need to understand the role you will be expected to fill on your team. The best resource is having your outgoing counterpart coach you on what they were doing and the team dynamics. Your coach can also provide valuable insight on where the project began, where it is heading, and the process thus far.

2.  Understand Your Team and Their Roles.  Even though your team may have been working together for months, or maybe years, and they function cohesively, you need to understand their roles and expectations. This is best accomplished with a ‘redo’ of the project kick-off meeting. If expectations are different from what was discussed when the project first kicked off, be sure to adjust them.

3.  Understand the Waypoints.  Every project has waypoints that will take time to work though and will affect the journey. Some are enjoyable, like groundbreakings, while others are difficult and require a long process with possible plan deviations depending on outcomes. Waypoints are best discovered through your outgoing counterpart and can also be mined at the project kick-off ‘redo’. You will need to understand the resources required to resolve issues and the progress made to date. This may be the most important part of your leadership change. 

Anyone that joins a project midstream has missed the journey that led the team to the point they are at. The turns your team has taken at various forks in the journey may not make sense to you until you understand all the variables that led to those decisions. It is essential to gain an understanding of the journey’s waypoints from your coach and teammates – the milestones, achievements, roadblocks, and potential obstacles ahead.

4.  Understand the Ultimate Destination. Every journey begins with a destination in mind; however, it is important to seek and understand the ultimatedestination. While your project’s destination may be a new elementary school, the ultimate destination may be energy-efficient 21st century learning environments. Or maybe your destination is district-wide capital maintenance but your ultimate destination is upgraded safety and security. Sometimes the vision for a destination is obvious and other times it’s not. Determine what the vision for the project is and what it looks like at the end point. Ask your predecessor what vision the ultimate destination is based on.

If you pursue these 4 points, I assure you that your project leadership transition will be much smoother. This roadmap may not avoid all the bumps but it will certainly make it easier for you to grab the wheel and steer your project in the right direction. Enjoy your journey…and please pass the pretzel sticks. 

Additional Resources for Administrators Beginning a Journey Already in Progress:

Bergholz, Harvey. "CEO Transitions: How to Smooth the Process." Jeslen Corporation. 2006. Web. 5 Dec. 2015. www.jeslen.com/uploads/8/7/8/5/8785318/ceo_transitions.pdf.

Scheid, Jean, and Rhonda Bowen. "7 Strategies for Managing Leadership Changes." Bright Hub PM. 15 May 2013. Web. 5 Dec. 2015.
www.brighthubpm.com/change-management/59326-strategies-for-managing-leadership-changes/.

Robert Vajgrt, AIA, LEED AP, CDT

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