Communicating a Leadership Change

How to Communicate Leadership Change

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Whether it’s the CEO, a board member or one of the senior executives, all leadership changes draw attention. Controlling the narrative from the outset is fundamental in steering how people feel about the change.

Individuals are always going to have their own thoughts and opinions but, by outlining the reasons for the change and pre-empting questions, you can heavily influence perceptions.

Some key points to consider are:

  1. Decide how and when you’re going to make the announcement
  2. Consider who is going to be most affected
  3. Avoid being vague or ambiguous
  4. Be prepared to answer questions
  5. Ready the company for media interest

Who should communicate the leadership change?

Someone who is seen as a trusted figure amongst stakeholders, and who feels comfortable asking questions, will naturally be best suited to communicating the leadership change. If it’s a high-profile position within the company, the CEO (as long as they’re not the one being replaced) will likely be the best spokesperson. People, both inside and outside the business, are far more receptive when the leader of the business is talking and the messages they deliver tend to carry more weight and authenticity.

If possible, the announcement would be made in a face-to-face setting. This will allow you to take questions more easily and demonstrates a greater level of transparency, thereby enhancing trust amongst the audience.

If the people you want to reach with your announcement are scattered across the world, and you’re willing to be more creative in how you go about the announcement, the use of live video on social networks is an intriguing and relatively untapped option. It allows you to live-stream the announcement and take real-time questions from viewers.

Those questions are likely to include the following:

  • When will the leadership change come into effect?
  • How was the choice of successor made?
  • What is their previous experience and what qualifies them for the role?
  • What are their aims for the company and when will these be detailed?
  • How will a change in leadership affect everyone?

If you would prefer to tell people in smaller groups, you could do so via individual managers. This may involve announcing the news to the senior leadership team and asking them to cascade it through the company. Should you elect to go with this approach, remember to check that the correct message is passed on and that crucial details aren’t misrepresented or forgotten. The development of a concise ‘key messages’ guide to be given to all managers to help steer the announcement will help with this.

We would recommend initially announcing the change in leadership to those who will be most affected. This will be employees who interacted with the departing leader on a daily basis and who may now see their own role or team dynamics changing. The more warning you can give them of the leadership change, the more time they will have to prepare and adjust.

What should be said?

When it comes to change, no news is bad news.

If stakeholders have some awareness that a change of leadership is in the works, and they haven’t heard or read anything from the company about it, they will fill the vacuum of information with their own speculation. Such uncertainty about the future can cause anxiety within a company.

With this in mind, you’ll also want to avoid being vague or ambiguous in your statements. Give stakeholders concrete reasons as to why the incumbent leader has left. You should try and keep the narrative both positive and honest, however, this can be difficult in certain circumstances.

  • If the incumbent has chosen to leave for a competitor, companies will naturally be disappointed and won’t want to lose face. In this instance, do not be tempted to display any bitterness in your messages or attempt to undermine their decision. This can come across as petulant and will impact on your credibility. The best approach in this scenario is to thank them for their contributions, make clear that the business respectfully appreciates their decision, and place the majority of your focus on communicating the benefits of the incoming replacement.
  • If it was a necessary change in direction for the business, then openly detail the logic behind the decision, make clear the fresh, exciting expertise the incoming leader is bringing with them and explain how this will help the business evolve. Realise, however, the incumbent may have had some strong ties in the business and people will know that they haven’t left on their own accord, so ensure you demonstrate gratitude and perhaps even highlight some of their key achievements.
  • If the change is down to some form of wrongdoing by the incumbent, this can potentially be a tricky one to navigate. For several reasons, you may not want to go into details about their transgressions. What makes things even more difficult is that scandal tends to heighten people’s intrigue so they will be eager to find out as much as they can. With this in mind, go into as little or as much detail as you feel is suitable and, if you have a set of values and a defined culture in the company, explain that the organisation will always stand by its principles.

In any scenario, a controlled level of transparency and a positive sentiment is key. Don’t forget that you want the incoming leader to feel warmly welcomed and valued from the outset, so the main focus of your messages should be about them.

How should you handle the media?

Depending on your company’s size or level of influence, there could be significant interest from the media in the leadership change.

As with your employees, if you’re not adequately prepared to respond to an enquiry, speculation will form the main narrative but this time on a much larger scale.

It’s recommended that you prepare a press release which encompasses all the key reasons for the change, an overview of the incoming leader, a statement from them about their vision and objectives, and a quote from the company’s elected spokesperson about what this means for the company. This way, when you receive an enquiry, you can swiftly reply with a predefined response that will present the organisation in the best possible light.

 


The change has been communicated and the leader is in the business – so, what’s next?..

With just under half of all senior appointments deemed failures within the first 12 months, companies can’t afford to just sit back and wait for their new executives to make things happen.

6 Group’s Managing Director, James Beazley, discusses how to accelerate the performance of executive appointments.

 

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