I work for a very dynamic company. Change is something that we a very familiar with. I like to joke that the only thing constant at our company is change! So I have been watching with interest as we go through a number of senior leadership changes all at once, and it has caused me to do some thinking about the nature of transitions and how they can impact an organization positively or negatively.
In this case we are talking about some very fundamental changes in leadership. The first two of these changes are related: our founder and CEO has decided that now is the right time to make the transition to a new CEO. The person who will take that role is currently the president of our Canadian operations and the de facto leader of our service delivery organization. That has necessitated that we name someone Vice President of Service Delivery, and the person chosen is someone who started with our organization 10+ years ago and has earned the promotion to the executive team. I think the entire organization is happy for this person as they he deserves it and is admired by the organization.
One other chain of transition is getting my closest observation as it involves me! After 6 1/2 years in this role it is time to allow someone else to take on the challenges of leading this business unit. We have identified another member of our team who has grown into a leader and earned the respect of everyone at the company.
I’m quite proud of our organization and how these transitions are being handled and I’d like to share some of the observations I’ve made and thoughts I am having about these them.
- Change can revitalize. I’ve never done a role for 6 1/2 years before. Granted I’ve never been an executive before so the breadth of the role had more challenge than I had seen before. Nonetheless as I passed the 5 year mark I did note that my creativity wasn’t where it once was. That perhaps my store of “new ideas” in this role was getting low and perhaps it was time for someone else to bring their creativity to bear. At the same time my creativity would be revitalized by taking on a new role, giving the organization a “double bump”.
- Be open and communicate. Too often we see that management changes are treated like a state secret! I’m not sure what drives this … probably the need to orchestrate every change, ensure everyone has said yes and that no group is left leaderless. But to what point? What is wrong with saying “This is a change that’s going to happen, it’s going to take some time, here’s what is driving it, please ask questions and do what you can to support it”. Doesn’t that allow things to settle in better? Doesn’t it allow for ideas that hadn’t yet been thought of to be incorporated? Regardless of this, people will still talk and fill in the blanks with missing information but a position of open communication allows these myths to be dispelled. In my case I had to paraphrase Mark Twain and say “rumors of my retirement are greatly exaggerated”!
- Allow time for transition and evolution. In many organizations, changes are announced, new leaders are introduced, a few days of transition meetings are scheduled and then everyone settles into their new roles and begins to learn what they don’t know. The previous occupant of a role says “call me if you need anything” and then disappears into the new role that she/he has accepted. The teams can get a bit unsettled as they don’t really know the working style of the new leader or what their working relationship will be like. What if these transitions were scheduled over time? What if the incoming person assumes responsibilities over weeks or months and the outgoing person assumes their new role at the same pace? The team gets time to get used to the new leader, changes are introduced more slowly and with forethought, and “tribal knowledge” gets a chance to get passed down.
- Accept uncertainty. if we are going down this path of slower, we’ll considered transitions, then it is possible that the role that the outgoing leader is transitioning to may not be clearly defined or fully decided upon. when these transitions take place over extended periods (mine will end up being 9-12 months) requirements can change and new opportunities arise? So there is a certain amount of courage and self-confidence required in following this path. A trust if you will that we are a valued member of the team, we have talents that can be applied in a variety of situations and that there are always good roles for good people!
- Prepare your successor to be better than you. To me, this is the ultimate reason for us to follow this path of slow and deliberate transition … To prepare new leaders to be even better than their predecessor. Without this extended mentorship, then a large portion of the new leader’s tenure will be spent getting up to an equivalent level of competence, leaving less time for new creativity and advancing the strengths of the business unit. If our thought as an organization is to “up level” each time we make changes, imagine the accumulation of knowledge and strengths over time!
- Leadership changes spawn opportunity. in each transition, there is an incoming new leader. Assuming that this leader has been moved or promoted from within, that presumes there is a vacancy that someone else can grow into, and if that was also an internal candidate, then that creates another opening, etc., etc. sometimes changes in leadership can spawn nervousness about what that
change means to the people reporting to the new leader. I think there should be excitement in an organization when these things happen! Usually these chains of moves are triggered by growth, and growing companies are exciting to work for. So when we see these changes start think of the possibilities they create for everyone!
I realize that what I’ve described here isn’t how transitions are handled everywhere. And I realize that all transitions are different. But working through such a scenario has really opened my eyes. I would be interested in hearing from others on their thoughts regarding such a transition process!