By: Helios on September 19th, 2014

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How to Best Prepare for a Change in Senior Management

Communication | Business Management & Strategy | Best Practices

A change in your senior management team can be an interesting time for your organization. The change can either go one of two ways: it can be a smooth process where a new leader comes in and helps steer your company to new heights or it can turn into a disaster where the position is open for months at a time and you end up rushing to fill the role. By rushing to fill the role, the organization hires someone who ends up not being a fit. Fast forward one and a half or two years later and that position has turned over again.  You are right back where you were 24 months prior and your organization is a little worse than it was previously and the position is still open.

How does your firm avoid this scenario? By partnering with your HR team to strategically find a successor who can help steer your organization for the next five, ten, or fifteen years. As an HR consultant, I have had the opportunity to work with a few organizations going through this type of transition. While each transition can be quite different, depending on the industry and makeup of your senior management team, there are fundamental similarities whenever a senior management position is open. Below I have outlined the five similarities your organization needs to prepare for so your change in the senior management ranks goes as smoothly as possible.

How to Best Prepare for a Change in Senior Management:

  1. Work closely with your Board of Directors.  A good Board of Directors will understand the different strengths and weaknesses of each senior manager and can identify what this new senior official can bring to the leadership team. In addition to understanding the qualifications of the new senior leader, the HR team and the board will need to work collaboratively to set the new senior manager’s roles and responsibilities and to ensure this new senior manager’s responsibilities don’t overlap with the rest of the senior management team.
  2. Understand where the company is trying to go in the future. Understanding where the business is now and where it needs to be in the future is paramount to helping your BOD find a replacement for your senior management team. While the new senior manager may ultimately change the direction of the company, the HR team needs to have a firm understanding of where your organization is now and where it needs to be 3-5 years in the future.
  3. Work collaboratively to prepare the communication. Effectively communicating why a senior manager is leaving your organization is going to be one of the most crucial steps your organization will have to overcome.  This means various departments will have to work together (Marketing, HR, and Legal) to ensure employees, customers, vendors and the public at large, understand why the change was necessary and how this change will move the company forward positively.  Your HR team should be able to bring the necessary players together to prepare an effective communication to the inside and outside world.
  4. Plan for the future today.  Some organizations need an “out of the blue” departure to spur them to create a succession plan. Ideally, your organization will have already created a plan and when the senior manager decides to leave you will have identified a group of candidates who can step into their role.  If you do not have a plan, now is the time to create one because other employees may leave as a result of this change. Just because you remind the departing senior managers of their non-compete and non-disclosure agreement doesn’t mean other employees won’t end up leaving.  When these other employees do end up leaving, you will not be caught off guard and your succession plan will help stabilize their departure.
  5. Ensure the transitioning senior managers leave with dignity. As I’ve noted in a previous blog article all employees deserve to leave an organization with dignity – including members of your senior management team.  That means you should:
    • Make yourself available to the employee for any clarifying questions that may come up after their last day.
    • Demonstrate compassion by ensuring the senior manager understands why they are transitioning from your organization.
    • Listen to their suggestions – departing senior officials can provide valuable insight into your organization.
    • Make sure the senior manager understands next steps for collecting their final paychecks, other people they need to speak with beyond HR (such as the security department) and the benefits available to them after leaving your organization such as COBRA coverage, alumni newsletters, and whom they need to contact if there are any additional questions.
    • Ensure remaining team members understand, or are at least communicated with, why the departing team member is leaving.

A shake up of your senior management team can be an exciting time for your organization. While it may cause some initial anxiety for your employee population, the five best practices outlined above can help smooth out the process. There is an old saying that change is never easy; personally, I don’t believe in that statement and neither should your organization. Instead, focusing on what lies ahead or how to make the best out of “bad” situation is what your company should be spending its time, efforts and resources on.