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Organizational transitions: How to tame the dangers

Transitions. They can sure be hell to an organization. Going from one leader to another is always a scary and unsure time. Losing a trusted face can mean uncertainty. Filling your predecessor’s shoes is an uphill climb for a new person. For every transition that goes well there are three or four that don’t. It is not only vulnerable time for organizations but it creates a sense of uncertainty for a new leader or leadership team.

Communications is the key to transition success. Lack of information and facts leads to whispers that are not good for the bottom-line. Organizations silo themselves and think if “we just pretend everything is okay the storm will pass.” Some think, “we don’t need to spend time communicating through this transition to our key stakeholders because we’ve got communications under control.” And that’s when a train wreck happens. We have helped many for and nonprofits through a leadership transition and here are some tips to arrive unscathed:

Have a plan. Without a plan there is no organized communication. You need to identify your stakeholders and you need to triage them into a list of who should be contacted directly and who to reach by email or through a mass email blast. Have messaging about what you are going to say about the transition, what you are going to say about the new team and what you are going to say about the folks departing. And when are you going to say it- and most importantly, who are your best ambassadors for your staff and employees to be able to communicate with one clear voice during the transition.

Celebrate the departing leader. Give customers and employees a time to understand. Let them mourn and reflect so they can come to terms with what’s going on. Skipping a point of celebration + mourning will often put the new person in a very difficult uphill position. There needs to be a pause in between leader A and B - so that things don’t happen too soon.

Be positive - this is good news. Focus on the good stuff and the accomplishments of the old team and the possibilities for the new one. If you can’t be positive no one else is going to be. Get people excited let them see the potential but also celebrate what you’ve accomplished so far.

Listen before you talk. Send a new leader out there to listen to stakeholders, customers, regulators and colleagues. Don’t set them up to go out and preach with they’re going to do that’s bad communication. Because you listened the new leader can say “hey I went out there, I heard what you had to say - so here’s how we’re going move forward based on your feedback.”

Be transparent and give everybody the same truth. The less transparent you are the more “versions of the truth,” that you had out there, the less likely people are to believe you. Honesty is not the best policy - it is the only policy. In every organization has A me to be direct and honest but where you going and how they’re going to get there.

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