Managing effective leadership transitions

Building a succession plan, creating an leadership pipeline, and facilitating a leadership transition are three of the most important strategic initiatives for any established organisation. Ideally. The complexities of corporations (whatever that means) don’t allow enough room to think or act in these “ideal” terms.

In my experience, barring a handful of small & medium enterprises (SMEs) and Fortune 500 (almost all of them), I don’t think others want to focus on these strategic priorities. I guess there’s just not enough time? Maybe. But of the three initiatives above, I don’t think there’s any organisation that can do without leadership transitions. They are a harsh reality that each and every organisation has to face at some point. The key difference is that the ones that are prepared facilitate these transitions while the others simply “face it.”

That said, leadership transitions can get as simple or complicated as the board or the outgoing leader would want. Some of the key aspects to keep in mind during this phase are as follows:

  1. Ensure that the key responsibilities, performance indicators, expectations from the role are documented in advance. The incumbent should have this handy before he steps into the new role.
  2. The outgoing leader should walk through the above document and list out the activities that the incumbent should focus on during the first 90, 180, and 365 days for maximum success. This isn’t negotiable and should be one of the biggest priorities (perhaps the only) for the outgoing leader’s last 90 days.
  3. “Is there anything else you need to ensure success over the next 3,6, and 12 months” is the most important question to ask of the incumbent as an HR and the transitioning leader.
  4. Once the knowledge transfer (I hate that term, but it is what it is) is officially complete, agreements have to be in place to ensure that the transitioning leader has to make herself available on an as-and-when needed basis. This is particularly true for founding partners or the founding CEOs and can work wonders for both the new leader and the organisation at large.
  5. Post-transition the new leader in in charge. Period. There cannot be any interference, which is a common sight when one of the leaders is either insecure or immature. The HR will have to step in and ensure that the outgoing leader stays out of the way and counsel the new leader as appropriate.

I wish transitions were as simple as the five points above. As always, there will be variables and how the leaders and HR cope with it will make all the difference. And of course, it goes without saying, one of the key priorities (besides the dozens) for the new leader will include building a succession plan, creating an leadership pipeline, and facilitating the next leadership transition.

The key learning is this — managing effective transitions (or the other two strategic priorities) doesn’t have to be rocket science or a nerve-wracking experience. And like most aspects of our lives, a lot boils down to preparation and a transition is usually an ideal stage to kickstart great initiatives.

By Sunil Nair

Nurturing leaders of tomorrow.

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