Group Gordon’s Carla Pisarro explains how to communicate a leadership change effectively both internally and externally.
Almost every business, at one time or another, will go through a leadership change. Change is always challenging, especially transitions involving senior staff members who oversee other employees. But a smart communications strategy can smooth out bumps in the road – and help preserve both your employees’ morale and your brand’s external standing.
When a longtime leader leaves a company, it’s important to acknowledge the departure – and their legacy. Did that person built strong ties with donors or stakeholders? Is their departure a surprise or disappointment for their staff? Was their tenure an inspiring or a rocky one? No matter how amicable the separation, the departure of a well-established leader always leaves a void.
It’s important to be open with your staff and to give them notice about the change as soon as you can. You should also acknowledge the uncertainty they may be feeling. When one longtime supervisor of mine gave notice, her supervisor quickly reached out after we’d heard the news. She praised the strong team our boss had created and reassured us that the company was committed to our office. That considerate gesture went a long way in giving us confidence about our future.
It’s just as important to be transparent with external audiences. A poorly handled transition can effectively ruin the relationships you’ve spent years building. Direct, regular communications with your stakeholders will help you avoid that. Your stakeholders may closely associate the business with the leaders they’ve known. Both the departing leader and the interim replacement should let those audiences know about the change and make sure they are comfortable with their new point of contact. Proactively preparing responses to typical questions – why did the person leave? What does this mean for the future of the organization? – will help you respond to questions confidently and without defensiveness.
It usually takes some time – rightfully so – to fill a vacant leadership position with the best person for the job. Accordingly, there will often be a gap after a departure, when the former leader’s responsibilities need to be reassigned temporarily. Appointing an interim director internally can be a worthwhile investment for the short term. That person should be well-equipped to handle their responsibilities – and ideally, well-liked by the rest of your team to maintain morale during the transition period.
Your staff are your brand’s best ambassadors. It’s crucial to keep them in the loop about the recruitment process – and to manage their expectations about what that process will entail. About how long could the process take? Who will ultimately make the hiring decision? What areas of expertise is the organization looking for in the new hire? Will some or all members of staff have the opportunity to interview prospective candidates? Will their feedback factor in the decision-making process? A new manager has a significant impact on the daily lives of their team. Respecting that your staff has a vested interest in the process with open communications is crucial.
Hiccups are a normal part of the hiring process; the right candidate may take longer to find than expected or may ultimately opt not to take the job. By being transparent with your staff, you can reassure them of your commitment to finding the best person for the role – and maintain their long-term confidence in their employer.
Times of transition are always tricky. But they can also be an opportunity. It’s important to take an honest look at the essential skillsets your organization is currently missing that a new leader can bring. And when you’ve found the right person, their appointment should be celebrated, with comprehensive communications to internal audiences, external stakeholders, and media. By embracing this time of change as a chance to become an even stronger organization, you can motivate your staff for the future and reaffirm your brand’s leadership and values.