One among the many responsibilities of an internal communicator is to steer leadership transition changes. Announcements (welcomes and goodbyes) are usually part of the deal. In every organization, change is important and when it takes place at the very top the impact is often felt all the way down the line.
Often (ideally every time) when such leadership moves take place the communication that welcomes the new leader and the goodbyes from the former leader need to stay consistent and provide reason for employees to believe the change is for the better. How we communicate (or not communicate) these messages can result in the morale dipping or rising among the workforce. In this post I am sharing key pointers for the internal communicator to get this important messaging right.
New leader and priorities: When a new leader joins employees expect to know what the individual will do more or differently than the predecessor. Also, the note needs to explain what is expected of employees to make this new person successful. There will always be curiosity about the role and how the person fits into the company’s journey and growth plans. Make a mention that you will see a follow-up mail from the individual directly.
Word gets around: The grapevine is stronger than we think. Every journalist worth his network will find a way to tease the truth out from your employees or anyone wanting to share – sooner than later. Not just that – the boundaries between internal and external communications don’t exist. Assume that every e-mail or internal social media post will get out there in the open. Therefore, be aware that your message may be read beyond the four walls of the organization.
Avoid ambiguity: No one leaves without a reason. The leader who for so many months showed up at work can’t suddenly ‘disappear’. The person had a role, probably managed teams and must have added some value. Or was the person a misfit? If you expect your employees to believe that your leader left to ‘explore other opportunities’ or ‘become an entrepreneur’ suddenly you are kidding yourself. It also sends a message that there isn’t much going on in the business within and which probably forced the leader to look elsewhere. Or that the organization’s communication isn’t trustworthy.
Doesn’t only have to be an e-mail: The best goodbyes are when leaders meet you in person and share how they have become better people while at firm. Also when they discuss their plans for the future and how people can stay connected. With social media everyone is connected to almost anyone. Unfortunately, it can’t always be done face to face but doesn’t hurt to get some face time for key employees who want to hear directly from the leader. The follow-up note can be an e-mail.
Shape the culture you need: Be open and upfront about the leadership change and what it means for the organization. If the person was shown the door for poor performance, so be it. This can be an opportunity to reinforce great results and what the organization is expecting from others. If the individual’s role was redundant due to organizational restructuring then let everyone know than have them guess or read between the lines. If the employee got a larger role, it is a proud moment not just for the individual but for the rest of the organization. Celebrate the move since it sends a message that organization is open to growing employees from within.
What happens in between is crucial: The new leader is expected to match the enthusiasm based on the welcome accorded and indicate plans early. Employees are interested more on what the individual did while at the organization and how they benefitted. Share stories on how the individual lived the values and the impact he or she made.
What do you think? Have other thoughts on making leadership change announcements more transparent and relevant? Keen to hear your views.