The Art of Leadership Transitions: Four Tips to Help Smooth the Process

/ Christine Andrukonis

Every day, we ask our executive clients: What keeps you up at night? The answer often boils down to one key theme: leadership transitions.

This response comes from almost all of our clients, regardless of their company’s size, industry or stage of development. Whether they are acclimating new leaders to their organization, managing existing leaders in transition, or preparing for the departure of a long-term executive, transitions often cause company leaders to lose sleep.

It makes sense that leadership transitions are on our clients’ minds.

Transitions can make or break any important change effort.

Even when they are well executed, transitions can be disruptive to relationships – upsetting critical trust that’s already been built both inside and outside the company. It can hinder the progress the company has already made toward their change goals. At a minimum, it can result in backtracking or losing key elements of institutional knowledge. At worst, it can negate the progress completely. Inevitably, leadership transitions also reset the meter for credibility – new leaders often need to start from scratch to build support from their teams and their peers.

So how can you plan for transitions? The key is to be very intentional about the process. Here are four tips that can help the transition progress more smoothly.

1. Create a customized transition plan. The plan should be specific to the leader in transition and his or her direct reports. It should incorporate input from throughout the affected group, including peers, direct reports, and other key stakeholders.

2. Consider the big picture. The plan should take into account:

  • the context—the company, the culture, the team, and any external factors that may influence the role;

  • the content—the job description, the objectives, and the tactics required to succeed in the role; and

  • the character—the strengths and development needs of the leader in transition, including his or her background experience, industry knowledge, and leadership capabilities.

3. Set a realistic time frame. A good rule of thumb is to plan for a 90-day intensive transition period with an additional 90 days of monitoring.

4. Work with the leader to implement the transition plan—ideally with the help of a leadership transition coach. (Hint: we can help with that) Your plan should include:

  • Kickoff and transition plan alignment,

  • Bi-weekly transition coaching sessions,

  • Progress check(s) with the leader’s direct manager, and

  • Wrap up review and next steps, once the 90-day monitoring period is complete.

Managing leadership transitions is not an exact science, but these guidelines can help you keep your process on track.

Remember: although some degree of disruption is inevitable, this disruption can actually be a pivotal and positive change intervention in and of itself, spurring teams to take stock of where they are on their change journey, and to adjust their course as needed.

Carefully planning for transitions is a worthwhile investment that can shore up relationships, clarify goals, and keep teams headed in the right direction for their long-term success. It might just help you sleep better, too!

Categories: Change, Leadership