Even the most carefully crafted transition of leadership will falter without a strategically executed communications plan.
The transition of leadership or ownership of a company is extremely challenging to navigate. With 10,000 baby boomers reaching retirement age EVERY DAY, there is a pressing need to identify a successor and to facilitate a strategic, long-term transition. So you invest your time and money, and you produce a multi-year transition plan that is thoughtful, forward-thinking and aligned with your organization’s strategic goals. Now it’s time to move on, right? While it may seem as though the heavy lifting is over, think again. Often, it’s the communication of this master plan that causes even the most carefully crafted transition to falter.
A transition plan offers little value if only a select few people within the organization know about it. To avoid this common pitfall, include a strategic communications plan that takes into consideration the needs of your employees, clients, industry stakeholders — and, perhaps most importantly, future prospects. Most importantly, effective communication leverages the new leadership as an opportunity to showcase something positive, new and exciting about the organization’s future.
Any major transition is inherently likely to cause confusion and uncertainty among employees. Employees get frustrated, feel second-guessed and uneasy, and they worry about the long-term stability of the company. A strategically executed communication plan is the solution to this problem. The transition of leadership evolves over time, and so should your carefully crafted messaging to employees. Help them understand what’s happening, why, and how it will impact them. While not all employees should know everything that is discussed behind closed-door meetings, you should be transparent about aspects of the transition that will affect them or their clients.
Both what you say and how you say it are equally important. Depending on the size of your company, we may recommend a company-wide meeting where you are able to explain the transition face-to-face with your employees. This allows the tone to be more conversational and makes employees feel part of the team. For larger companies, this could be achieved with an email from the current leadership, or even better, a brief video.
Introducing a transition of leadership to clients, customers or patients will ideally be subtle at first. Help create familiarity with the successor by involving them in more meetings and referencing them more often in the company’s owned media (website, social media, etc.). Their face and name should become gradually more recognizable, even with whom they don’t directly work. Familiarity builds trust, transparency, and security.
This tactic is even more crucial for industries where senior leaders are the relationship managers with clients. How confident are you that your clients aren’t likely to consider jumping ship once that person retires? The transition of these relationships needs to be handled delicately, but intentionally. Too many companies procrastinate this aspect of transition, thinking they have plenty of time, without realizing how long it actually takes when done effectively. The longer lead time yields dividends in client retention. Remember, acquiring a new client is FIVE TIMES more expensive than retaining an existing one.
This part can be tricky. Your network and your professional peers are the people who not only serve as referral sources, but also play a critical role in your company’s reputation. Who is attending networking events? Who is presenting at speaking engagements? Who is authoring articles for trade publications? Who is a member of the influential industry organizations, and even more importantly, are they on any committees? These are just a few of the people who can help increase the visibility of the upcoming leader. Don’t forget to take advantage of the clout of the outgoing leader, too. By facilitating new introductions, they are showing their support for the successor.
Finally there is the task of communicating the shift publicly, via earned-media placement and public relations, which is an opportunity to gain the attention of new clients and prospects while solidifying your reputation with your existing network. A press release or blog post are both time-honored vehicles for making your announcement, but if you stop there, you’re missing an ideal opportunity to impress. A shift in leadership may include a name change, and it will most certainly include a shift in company culture. We recommend that our clients consider rebranding at this stage: a fresh new logo and a website redesign create an overall new look that incorporates new messaging that better matches the tone of the company. You want to communicate to the broadest possible audience that this is who you are now: some things have changed, some things have remained the same, but your company is moving forward stronger than ever. In addition, rebranding excites internal employees about the company’s future and aids in future human resources efforts.
The most common mistake that companies make is believing these benefits will happen organically. As with any business function, what is strategically conceived, planned and executed is far more effective — and far less risky — than leaving the results to chance. Confusion, uncertainty and instability are not qualities that you want associated with your company, especially in a world of lightning-fast, globally available content.
Strategic communication planning can seem daunting, especially when time and resources are limited. Premo Consultants’ team of experts are available today to discuss how you can move these tasks from theory to practice. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-219-9402.
Marissa Luznar is Vice President of Client Services at Premo Consultants. You can get in touch with her via email at email@example.com.
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