Leadership transitions are tough for any company. No matter if it’s for good reasons or bad, this is going to be one of the biggest challenges you’ll ever face in HR.
Part of the issue is in keeping people motivated. Uncertainty about the future of the organization, or maybe even their jobs, tends to get people distracted, hurting productivity and the long- and short-term health of the company.
But it’s not supposed to be that way. Not if you design and implement an effective change management strategy that redirects attention away from the transition and towards the work that needs to be done. Here are some ways to establish this type of climate during a period of leadership transition.
Establish Clear Lines of Communication
The first thing people ask when a company announces a change is whether or not their jobs are safe. It’s not uncommon for new leaders to bring people with them from previous teams, and this can create skills overlaps that requires changes or even layoffs. People know this, but it’s not what stalls motivation. Instead, it’s the not-knowing and the uncertainty that distracts them and can make life at work horribly tense.
You won’t be able to completely quell all fears. But you can try. And the way to do so is to encourage management to communicate with people the information they do have.
Consider setting a weekly meeting surrounding the transition for updates and questions. Or you could set up an HR liaison that people could go to to ask questions and get information about how and why the transition is happening.
This not only gets everyone on the same page about what’s true or not—halting rumors in their tracks—but it also establishes a clear line of communication. Knowing where to go with their questions, and knowing you’re going to make every attempt to answer them, is comforting and helps people stay focused on their jobs.
Make Decisions and Let People Know
For your communication flow to succeed in helping you keep people motivated, it’s important you have information to share. This means you need to do everything you can to swiftly decide what changes are going to happen. Dragging out announcements is going to put people off by increasing their feeling of uncertainty about the situation.
Set yourself deadlines for making decisions. And consider outsourcing some of the work to be done, allowing a specialized firm to recommend the best ways to reshape the organization. If you determine you must lay people off, make those decisions first and let people know right away so that they aren’t completely blindsided. It may even be a good idea to offer them some assistance in finding another job.
Ideally, you want to avoid all these unpleasant aspects of leadership changes. But sometimes you can’t. And when this happens, you need to be as fair to people as possible. They have a right to be distracted when things get shaken up, so get the bad stuff out of the way as quickly as possible and allow everyone to move on and regain focus on making the transition go smoothly.
Keep Focus on Task at Hand
During a time of change, it’s also important to lead by example. Even if there is uncertainty, there are things you cannot control. To keep people motivated, show them this by keeping a razor sharp focus on the day-to-day operation of the business.
This is where it’s important to have a strong company culture. During times of change, it helps to have something to fall back on that motivates people enough to the point where the transition becomes secondary.
Keep meeting schedules all the same, and limit discussion of the transition to the weekly transition meeting. This helps delineate when it’s time to talk about change and when it’s time to get things done. Leading in this way helps demonstrate stability to people, helping them get more comfortable with the change.
Listen and Learn
It’s also important to make sure you’re including employees in the transition. Encourage newcomers to spend time learning from and listening to those who were already there. This will help communicate key aspects of company culture and also build trust between existing employees and new leadership.
Consider establishing a leadership team that can run things during the transition. This will make it easier for the organization to adapt to the exit of one leader and the entrance of another. Little by little this team will pass responsibility back, but it will have been integral in helping make the transition a more productive process.
Including people in the management of change by giving them roles to help facilitate it can help make the process feel more collaborative. And feeling a part of what’s happening puts people at ease, as they feel they have more control of the situation.
Doing all of this will definitely put you in a position to weather a leadership transition without losing employee focus and productivity. However, there will likely be some things you can’t prepare for. Things are always a little tense when different personalities come together, so the important thing is to lead by example and engage with newcomers so that people can begin to feel more comfortable with one another, and more motivated to push the company forward.
About the Author: This guest post was written by Jock Purtle. Jock is the founder and owner of an online business brokerage service specializing in digital businesses. He advises small and medium business owners starting from the initial funding phases and continuing all the way through to their exit.