Succession planning is more than just “who takes who’s spot when they retire”. Change and loss are difficult no matter your position in the organization. Therefore, the organization’s ability to acknowledge the difficulty of change for their employees at all levels and to coach them through it is essential whenever there is a leadership transition. All of this is particularly true when a leader leaves suddenly and without warning.
The first challenge your employees face in a transition is dealing with the loss. Regardless of whether a vacating leader was well liked or merely tolerated, there is always a loss of old systems, relationships, the “known”. Even when old systems are continued as is, they are continued with new people at the helm.
Alongside the loss is the trepidation of the new – new systems, new relationships and the unknown. New leadership often ushers in unfamiliar programs and tools, and presents different ideas that stretch employees. This stretching is compounded by the stress of coping with changes in the reporting structure. Even the most positive tools and processes that are added can be overwhelming to already taxed coping mechanisms.
How to best prepare? First make sure you are “mechanically” prepared for leadership transition, i.e., that your legal, financial, and position specific details are covered. This sounds like the opposite of culture. However, having in place a comprehensive succession plan means you have already made well informed and practical decisions that protect your company and its future long before the stress of the transition occurs. Cognitive scientific research has demonstrated the negative impact stress has on decision-making. When an unexpected or difficult change in leadership occurs, you simply turn to your plan and know that key decisions were made without panic.
Second, have in place a SWAT team of sorts to help employees manage the transition that leadership change brings. The team should be trained to recognize the signs of employees who are struggling with the transition and know how to coach them through it. William Bridges’ Managing Transitions is a brilliant tool in understanding the emotional side of change and how to best prepare for and handle it.
If you want to determine if you culture is truly ready to embrace the change a leadership transition brings, contact us to for a quick Readiness Assessment. We will assess your scores and give you steps to take to begin creating the culture that will thrive right through a transition.
For more on Succession Planning, check out our post on components to solid succession planning and why it is important. We also have a library article on the board’s critical role of hiring/replacing the CEO.