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How to Prepare for a Change of Leadership editorial staff editorial staff

Help ease the transition and prepare your workers for new leadership.

  • Transitioning to new leadership is a natural occurrence in business. For some employees, though, news of a change can be frightening.
  • Breaking the news to the significant players in your company is best handled using a one-on-one approach. For employees, be as transparent as possible.
  • There are various types of leadership changes – emergency unplanned succession, transition planning, succession planning – have a plan in place about how you will deal with these changes.

There comes a time in nearly every company when leaders either change positions or leave altogether. That "world's best boss" mug is packed away and ready to be retired, and employees are left scrambling for answers. Who's next in line? Will someone new take their place? And how will this affect their jobs?

Change in leadership is a natural occurrence in most businesses, but this transition can be difficult for many workers. 

"Top-level change can cause anxiety for a team," said Tina Bacon-DeFrece, president of Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More. "It could mean everything from a change in culture to removal and replacement of team members."

Breaking the news

While it might feel like a daunting task, you must alert your team of the change and do so in a respectful manner. This will alleviate tension and build trust in your employees.

"When we have an internal leadership change, we prefer to take the personal one-on-one approach with as many key people as possible," said Aaron Meyers, president and COO of Hammer & Nails Grooming Shop for Guys. "It's important to personally contact all significant players within the company … prior to the official announcement. Taking the time to make calls and speak with your team is a significant commitment, but the more one-on-one conversations you have with your brand's thought leaders, the more they will vocalize support of the change."

Meyers added that transparency is key, as well as maintaining communication with workers of all levels. Don't keep anything from your workers or treat them like they're emotionless robots who have nothing invested in the business.

"It's helpful to add weekly emails and conference calls to the mix to help ensure the entire company is well informed, aligned and confident in where the company is going," he said.

This will not only bring everyone together but also keep their spirits hopeful in the face of change.

Preparing for the transition

The shift from an old leader to a new one can be rocky, especially if the previous executive was well liked and easy to work with. This type of transition can spike anxiety and affect workflow, which can affect the entire company and culture.

The best way to approach this issue is by ensuring everyone understands that this decision has everyone's best intentions at heart, and that everyone's concerns are heard.

"Help your company understand the reality that precipitated the change," said Meyers. "Business results often are the driver of change. Many companies are not transparent with results, so their people are not aware of the health of a business … Painting an accurate picture of where you are and where you are going is the surest way to prepare a company for new leadership."

Meyers recommended talking with your workers every day, encouraging feedback and open discussions so they aren't out of the loop. Above all, stay positive for your team.

"In our world, we experience change daily, and it is happening faster than ever before," said Meyers. "That means your team is probably scared or unsure of how the story ends and what the future will hold. They need a leader who helps them see an exciting future and ensures them the hard work it takes to get to the top will be worth it. Have compassion for your team, and show that compassion in how you communicate."

Make sure you have a well-thought-out plan to meet the company goals and objectives and that you share it with your workers, added Bacon-DeFrece. Concerns tend to carry less weight when there's a detailed strategy in place.

Even if you have your reservations, be confident in your organization. If you aren't, fear can trickle down to all employees and create a spark of panic.

"You are either all in and have confidence, or you are struggling as a leader," said Meyers. "A team's attitude is often a reflection of their leader's, and whether their thoughts, ideas and concerns are being listened to and acknowledged."

Stages of leadership change

There are various types of leadership changes to be aware of and prepared for. They are as follows:

Emergency unplanned succession

Although having time to prepare for a change in leadership is preferred, it's not always practical. In some cases, these changes in leadership occur without notice and there is no time to prepare for them.

According to Empower Success Corps, if you find yourself in this predicament, take the following steps:

  • Hold a meeting to discuss the options for new leadership immediately.
  • Appoint a team of people to handle the transition.
  • Create a solution for the short term and long term with regard to management.
  • Review security issues and signatories.
  • Reach out to funders, supporters, external stakeholders and others connected to the company and notify them of the changes.

Transition planning

When you have advance notice, you should take the time to properly plan your transition. According to Culture IQ, you should take the following steps:

  • Decide who will communicate the change.
  • Tell everyone the basics (who, what, when, where, why, how).
  • Decide how you will share the news with employees.
  • Make a team plan to address who will be impacted and how support will be provided.
  • Create a timeline for the transition.

Succession planning

According to the Harvard Business Review, succession planning involves focusing on development over planning, outcomes over process, keeping it simple and being realistic.

Onboarding new leader

According to Asana, the best practices for onboarding new leaders involves ensuring existing employees are prepared, focusing on face-to-face interactions, checking in with employees and the new leader often, addressing all important issues and getting feedback as needed.

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