Easy Come, Easy Go: A Checklist for Handling Leadership Transitions Smoothly and Strategically
May 23, 2023
When one executive leaves and another comes in, exec comms should use a rigorous, repeatable process for communicating the change.
Leadership transitions are inevitable, and often all too frequent: Executives leave the organization, and new executives join. Major changes like these can be disruptive to the business, but you play an important role in minimizing that disruption—and helping the incoming exec get off to a fast, sure start.
Regardless of the type of change, start by building a communications plan that covers:
- What’s happening: In addition to the executive joining or leaving, will there be any changes to the organizational structure or leadership team as a result? Will there be an interim leader in place during the transition?
- Who needs to be informed: Is company-wide communication warranted, or can this news stay targeted to certain organizations or functions? Are there cross-functional partners or members of the senior leadership team who should be informed? Does this news need to be shared externally, via press release (usually, if the person is a company officer), social media post and/or update on your website’s leadership page?
- Who is sending this news: Will the CEO or the executive’s manager send this out? Will the executive be given an opportunity to also send out a message? If something is not sent out broadly across the organization, how will this news be cascaded to the relevant teams?
- What is the timing: List out the sequencing in minute-by-minute detail. The rollout could happen over a matter of days and weeks, or it could be a matter of hours. Be very crisp on who is sending out what, and when.
- How will this news be sent: Various channels to consider include email, instant message like Slack, live meetings (in-person and/or virtual), intranet, social media post, press release, website updates, and blog post. Craft your content accordingly for each channel.
- Who needs to review: List out all the necessary individuals who need to review the plan and draft content. Key partners typically include the executive themself, members of the executive team, Legal, Human Resources, and—for external rollout—Public Relations and Investor Relations.
- Pro Tip: Be mindful of the appropriate tone to use throughout the communications. Sometimes an executive leaves their role abruptly. Regardless of the circumstances, keep a respectful and gracious tone. Audiences are paying attention to how leadership behaves in tougher situations like these. They also appreciate transparency and empathy around what is happening and what to expect.
A few more considerations…
For executive departures, identify any key relationships – with customers, partners, employee groups, and policymakers – that will need to be transitioned.
For incoming executives, you may want to partner with HR throughout the onboarding process, and develop a short-term plan for introducing the leader to the company, their teams and other key stakeholders. Establish a cadence for them to listen, learn, and ramp. If you’ll be supporting their comms ongoing, set up an intake session to ask them for their perspectives on a range of topics related to their role. This will form the basis of the business and leadership messaging you build for them, and get your partnership off to a successful start.
A founding member of the Executive Communication Council, Kari Matalone is senior director, corporate and executive communications at Snowflake, a cloud computing-based data company. Prior to Snowflake, Kari managed executive communications for six years at Splunk, and four years at Cisco. Born and raised in San Jose, Calif., Kari attended university in Brussels, Belgium, and began her career there, before returning to the Bay Area.