5 Top Tips For Smooth Leadership Succession

Written by EO Executives on Nov 15, 2016

Successions can be a tricky affair and history throws up some intriguing leadership succession stories. Tim Cook taking the reigns at Apple was initially met with heavy scepticism, and last year Pandora Media took a leap in announcing a full technology leadership succession.

The fact is that any leadership change has the potential to create problems. When the departing leader has had a strong run there can be anxiety about his successor’s ability to maintain momentum, and when a departing leader hasn’t met expectations there can be concern about his successor’s ability to turn things around.

So what can a successor do to make the transition as smooth as possible? A significant number of successions are from external sources, and I work with a lot of technology leaders making the transition from one company to another.

With that in mind, here are my top 5 tips that leaders should take on board when joining an established business:

1. The First 100 Days Count

We talk about it often on our blog, but the first 100 days is a critical time for both employer and employee. If you are a new hire you will be keen to orientate yourself quickly and start making your mark on your new company, but remember the pitfalls of trying to do too much too soon without building all important alliances within the business first.

Hopefully your new company will have a 100 day plan designed to build political support, introduce the company culture and set expectations for both short and medium to long term. Be a sponge for the first few weeks, absorbing as much as possible about the company and it’s structure while looking for opportunities where you can add value.

2. Develop A Progressive Strategy

As part of your first 100 days, you will be assembling a strategy and criteria for key areas of the business. For example within the technology space, I see an emphasis on new leaders developing a clear strategy and criteria for the technology that is in play within the business, identifying if it’s out-dated, overly expensive or whether it can be improved in certain areas.

When the time is right approach key stakeholders, let them know your plans for rolling out the change you want to see, and make sure they provide you with the support you’ll need to make that change happen.

3. Evaluate Internal Talent

As an outsider, you have a great opportunity to bring a fresh set of eyes to the business. The best companies tend to have the best cultures, but even within these businesses there can be complacency and a raft of individuals who aren’t ideally suited to their position. Make sure you take a wider look at internal talent and determine whether that talent is being recognised. Do we have the right skills in the business? Do we have the right talent? Is the right talent in the right place?

Again these questions are particularly relevant to tech businesses that require highly specialised skill sets that can be difficult to find or grow within existing teams.

4. Identify Easy Wins And Be Patient

There is a natural tendency for leaders to want to distinguish themselves from their predecessors, and sometimes this can lead to too much change when it is not required. In trying to differentiate themselves, new leaders will often abandon successful strategies, programs, and even organisational missions, which can create fallout within the business, demotivate existing teams and alienate other leaders.

Any thorough onboarding will align cultures, values and behaviours of a new leader to the incumbent leadership team. Focus on the positive strategies within the business and if there is already a successful path, keep the momentum up in those areas. Your opportunity to differentiate yourself and establish your identity within the business will come later, so it’s important that leaders recognise that being patient and waiting for an opportunity can be as important as actively seeking them out – especially whilst in that early transitional phase.

5. Grow Talent Around You

Any leader knows that their success is down to the people around them. Leveraging the strength of your leadership team along with technology and your culture can turn your organisation into a destination employer and make your business a magnet for talent. As you continue to strengthen your leadership team, others will follow, enhancing your business and brand, and helping drive your businesses success.

What Next?

Successful succession planning is a difficult skill to master, but by having clarity and aligned objectives for both employer and employee you can make that transition smoother.

Download our ‘Hiring & Holding Onto Superstars' ebook where we look in more detail at what you can do to maximise performance of new recruits, particularly in key leadership positions.

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