How to Have Successful Leadership Transitions

How to Prepare for a Leadership Transition 

Implementing organizational change of any kind is a challenge. Leadership transitions rank among the most unique and difficult changes to implement.  

Internal moves, retirements, promotions — whatever the leadership transition, it affects all employees familiar with and confident in their leader. In fact, leadership transitions also affect employees that might not know the leader personally, but understand that a change in leadership will shake things up. 

Leadership transitions can also impact your top-level business goals, your company culture, and entire teams’ working styles.  

Needless to say, preparing for a leadership transition is crucial. New leaders that undergo effective transitions reach their potential nine months faster than those with an average transition.  

We’re here to help. We’ve drafted a full guide to managing organizational change of all kinds. Download it here. 

Or, read on to learn how to:  

  • Make a leadership transition plan 
  • Consider shared leadership teams 
  • Communicate leadership transitions 
  • Effectively onboard new leaders

Learn how to effectively manage organizational change

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Make a Leadership Transition Plan

Based on our Top Company Cultures findings, in winning cultures 90% of employees are confident in their company’s leadership team. Changes in leadership can lead to employee uncertainty, fear, and loss of confidence — simply because any change is scary.  

And with good reason. About 40% of executives who change jobs or get promoted fail in the first 18 months.  

Keep confidence high and teams running smoothly with a solid leadership transition plan. You’ll ensure employees stay confident in their leadership team. You’ll ensure your leaders can hit the ground running in their new roles.  

Your transition plan should identify:   

  • Your internal messenger. Who is communicating this change?  
  • The basics. Who, What, Why, When, How? 
  • Messaging. How will we speak to the basics?  
  • Communication. How will we share the news with our board, internal stakeholders, and employees?  
  • A team plan. What do the impacted teams need in terms of materials, information, and support? 
  • Timeline. When is each element of this transition plan taking place?  

Consider Shared Leadership Teams

To lessen the impact of one leader’s transition, consider proactively implementing a shared leadership structure.  

Shared leadership is what it sounds like: Rather than individual leaders overseeing one bucket of an organization, your leadership team shares oversight across all buckets. Shared leadership applies your leaders’ combined knowledge and expertise holistically towards running a business.  

Shared leadership lessens the impact of one leader transitioning away from their role. Other leaders are willing and able to step in and facilitate a transition.  

Changes at the leadership level are inevitable, even if you actively work to reduce unforeseen ones like resignations or firings. This shift in your approach to leadership structure should happen proactively, not reactively when a leadership transition takes place. That way, your leaders will already understand how their team structure works. They’ll be able to shift accordingly, when a leadership transition takes place. 

And remember: Shared leadership isn’t a solution for every organization. Analyze the benefits against your current leadership structure to see if the proactive change could work for yours. 

Communicating Leadership Transitions

Communicating your leadership transition proactively, clearly, and consistently is crucial. You’ll reduce confusion, make employees feel considered and involved, and pave the way for a smooth transition. 

So why is effective internal communication so rare? Especially as organizations grow past the enterprise level? Ninety-three percent of communication professionals acknowledge the importance of creativity in internal communications. Only 6% think it’s used to its full potential.  

Here are three tips for communicating your change:  

Get the details right. Surprisingly, many organizations skip this step. Make sure your leadership team are aligned on the details of the change: The who, what, when, why, and how.  

Explain why. Employees will want to know why the transition is taking place. While it feels easier to hide the reasoning, show transparency here. You’ll keep the rumor mill at bay and increase employee trust in your organization.   

Explain how this affects employees. Gather together affected employees — the leader’s old team, new team, and any other applicable employees. Clarify what this means for their roles in the near and far term, and what you’ll need from them to facilitate the transition.  

Get more communication tips for managing change with our free eGuide 

Effectively Onboard New Leadership

There’s no getting around it: First days are tough. This is true for senior leaders too. Even if they’ve been with the company a while, they’ll need to learn the ins, outs, and expectations of their new team. They often need to develop relationships with new peers and/or stakeholders within their new role as well.   

What’s more, less than a third of new leaders said they felt meaningfully supported through their transition.  

Enter, onboarding. Effective onboarding helps leaders understand their new role, forge relationships with their team, and re-align with the company culture. Effectively, it provides the support leaders need to reach full impact quickly.  

Here are some ideas for facilitating leadership onboarding 

To help leaders understand their new role:  

  • Get everything in writing. Draft a formal onboarding document. 
  • Give context before Day 1. Send background materials before leaders are officially in the role. 
  • Re-visit top-level goals. Review and modify the leader’s goals asap, so they can dive into leading their portion of the organization.  

To help leaders forge relationships with their team: 

  • Encourage team bonding. Increase the leader’s budget for team roadshows and listening tours.  
  • Set up get-to-know-you meetings with new direct reports.  
  • Prepare the team by communicating the change proactively, clearly, and consistently.  

To help leaders re-align with and represent the company culture:  

  • Survey the team for feedback on how your team culture may have changed over time. 
  • Encourage leaders to listen first. Employees want to feel heard. Rather than showing up and taking charge immediately, encourage leaders to listen. How do employees feel about working on this team?  

Want more on navigating organizational change? Download our eGuide now. 

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