Managing Transition

Transition from one leader or manager to the next, if handled well, reveals the strategic planning and maturity of an organisation. It provides an opportunity for reflection and renewal. If handled poorly, it can compromise a board, make a new leader’s job more difficult and alienate the staff and stakeholders. Mature organisations and mature leadership are characterised by smooth transitions.

The planning for the CEO transition gives a board an opportunity to prepare a graceful and honourable exit, a smooth transition, for the outgoing while ensuring a forward-looking, positive entry for the incoming new leader. Yet many boards do not have systems and guidelines to facilitate a transition process. While it may be up to the CEO to develop individuals with leadership potential as part of a formal succession management process, handing over the reins to a new leader is a delicate balancing act.

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This potentially sensitive process has received far less attention than succession planning, yet is equally important for the continuity of an organisation mission and strategy. Smooth leadership transition gives credit to the board for good governance. Transitioning into a new management position requires an intricate balancing act for the smooth integration of the new staff. It is daunting and intimidating for the new staff, often it determines welcome into the family of the organisation.

When order is maintained the new leader is inspired and motivated to join the organisation with its culture. This paper seeks to make some suggestions, if applied, will make the transition period run more smoothly thus reducing the stressful anxiety that comes with a new job leave alone a new organisation. Appointment When the Board approves the appointment of any staff, especially a new executive, a letter of offer should be written immediately.

It may be necessary at this stage, for the candidate to have a second interview with the CEO or the Chairman of the Board to explain the offer and conditions of working with the organisation. It is assumed that the incoming executive had a positive interview and the candidate is looking forward to make a significant contribution to the success of the organisation. A letter of appointment should include such details as: the title, the responsibility of the position, to whom responsible to, commencing date, remuneration package and any special condition of the appointment.

It may include attachments of the job description and expectations; an overview of the organisation to help the incoming executive start to understand the culture and working of the organisation; and general reports of the operation of the organisation. It is advisable to hold onto reports, manuals detailing policies and procedures in the organisation until an appropriate time during the induction. The incoming executive is normally expected to formally accept the appointment in writing.

In some cases it may be advisable to discuss any issues in the appointment letter before letter of acceptance. Hiring is the first step of orientation. The process, if handled professionally, conveys the values, goals, and expectations of an organisation, and if not it sends negative sentiments to the incoming executive.Training is absolutely vital for new starters. Good induction training ensures new executives are settled in quickly and happily to a productive role.

Induction training is more than skills training. It’s about the basics that seasoned employees all take for granted: working hours; where the notice-board is; general routines and the unspoken rules; the canteen; the dress code; and where the toilets are. An induction is not complete until the incoming understand the vision and mission of the organisation its goals, values and philosophy; personnel practices, health and safety rules, and of course the job they’re required to do, with clear methods, timescales and expectations.

What is it that keeps the organisation vibrant effectively serving the stakeholders? On the point of values and philosophy, induction training offers a wonderful early opportunity to establish clear foundations and expectations in terms of ethics, values ad beliefs, integrity, corporate social responsibility, and all the other converging concepts in this area that are the bedrock of all good modern responsible organisations. The starting point is actually putting these fundamental life-forces on the workplace agenda.

Proper induction training is increasingly becoming a legal requirement. In times of a crisis the new executive may say that he was never informed. The spirit of the new Kenya Employment Act is based on the employee being clearly informed of any requirements in the work place. Employers have a formal duty to provide new employees with all the relevant information and training relating what is expected of them, their rights, discipline, arbitration, health and safety matters. Preparing for Induction

The first few days makes a permanent impression to new manager that may determine motivation that will influence length of time in working for the organisation. There have been instances where new managers walk away after a very short time depending on the welcome and what they observe in the first few days. An organisation may look great from outside but the manner of the welcome exposes the real organisation. Effective orientation is never merely formal, but involves information gathered in informal activities.

Often the most important information is handed down to new generations through stories, lore, and practical tips. Good transition strategies do not ignore these sources. A corollary applies if the departing manager has much to offer and is available: hiring a successor before the outgoing manager leaves has obvious benefits for information-sharing and a smooth transition. In good transitions, as information flows, it marks the foundation of healthy relationships. Those managing leadership change know that secrets and surprises undermine.

They also recognise that history is important and that serious problems in an organisation’s history need to be passed on. Even dormant problems can resurface and present thorny challenges. New leaders deserve to be prepared. Taking Over the Stick After receiving the letter of offer, it is advisable for the incoming executive to take some time off, maybe a week or two to separate from the previous workplace or previous position to prepare emotionally for the new role. Leaving co-workers behind can be very difficult. The number of hours spent at work far exceeds the number of hours spent anywhere else.

The relationships, good and bad, are usually very strong ones. Sometimes it can be very cosy, and other times it can be like a big dysfunctional family. Take the time to do some research; learn all about the new organisation. Having knowledge about a potential employer prepares the incoming executive emotionally and gives confidence at the very start in the work place. It helps with a competitive edge over other job seekers. Learn about their product lines, their ministry, their services, their philosophies, and their corporate/organisation culture.

The incoming executive should call around to see if anyone in his network knows any of the future co-workers and ask for introduction. If the Incoming executive is completely new to the organisation, it will be great, when on the first day has someone they have made acquaintance with. Plan what the dress during the first week of work, the route to the new station, the traffic jams. Clothing says a lot about an individual. The dress for work or a job interview is important communicates to others about the incoming executive, and the impression on the boss, clients, and co-workers.

The incoming executive should seek to understand by asking questions. It’s better to do something right the first time around than have to do it over; be friendly. Get to know the co-workers and what their interests are; Use lunch hours to get together and make new acquaintances, rather stay aloof or with those of the same ethnicity; Figure out who has the authority to give work to do and who is just trying to have you do theirs; Pay attention to the grapevine, but don’t contribute to it.

Don’t gain a reputation as a gossip monger; Don’t complain about the boss, office mate, any co-workers, or the previous job; Continue to arrive early and don’t rush out the door at the end of the day; Volunteer for projects that will help exposure, without neglect of assigned work; and Keep a positive attitude and an open mind.

The outgoing executive preparing to hand over the stick and saying goodbye to the position of power and influence can be a rewarding, though emotional if done gracefully. However, it can be traumatising, if not handled with the care and seriousness it deserves. Normally, a leader wants to look back and be proud of what he/she participated in building. Passing on the baton ought to be the most exciting and refreshing experience in a leader’s life like the satisfaction that Paul had with assurance of continuity.

The process and the manner in which the handing over is carried out contributes greatly to the happiness of the successor and the outgoing. 1 How much CEO overlap is useful? Although it depends on the size of the organisation, there are many other contributing factors. In some cases, in the strategic planning of the organisation, an overlap time has been planned to allow for the training of the successor, who may have already been appointed as the interim successor. The organisation would have budgeted not only for the training but for the overlap.

However, the actual handing over should be two to three weeks is usually an acceptable time frame. With the outgoing CEO on hand for a bit longer, the new CEO can become acclimated and ask questions. However, the outgoing CEO must be careful to begin loosening the grip on the reins when the incoming CEO arrives. Here are some views:

  • Case #1 One month: “I shadowed my predecessor half-time for one month. I also attended course just two weeks after that. I did not know the field at all but still felt that one month was a little long – three weeks would have been better for me. The previous executive continued to assume the role and responsibilities until she left. Staff was ready for a change and that made the transition easier. ”
  • Case #2 Six weeks: “My predecessor and I overlapped by about six weeks. It was helpful but probably longer than necessary. I was immediately ‘in charge’ and he finished up some assignments. ”
  • Case #3 Fourteen months: After the appointment of the successor, he spent 6 months working in various departments, before going for a six months further training outside the country.

On return from the overseas training took leave for one month, after which a 3-weeks orientation was conducted and then handing over. A public formal induction service for incoming and a farewell to the outgoing was conducted attended by many of the church and organisation leaders, staff, Board, partners and friends. There are advantages and disadvantages with each one of these cases, however, it is important that the board and senior management discuss and agree on what is appropriate in their situation.

Financial implication has a great bearing on the process the organisation decides to use. Avoiding the “lame-duck” syndrome The term “lame-duck” is used more in politics where an elected official who is approaching the end of his or her tenure, and especially an official whose successor has already been elected. Normally in this period the occupant avoids to make any major decision and the incoming cannot make a decision because he/she has no mandate. Keep the outgoing CEO engaged, even though he/she is leaving. What planning processes can he/she participate in? Are there any unrealised or perhaps unspoken – goals the CEO had for the organisation that could be implemented before he/she leaves?

What are the challenges the outgoing CEO knows his successor will face? How can the CEO pave the way for the successor? These are just some of the questions you may want to consider. While leadership change usually brings with it a few challenges, planning ahead can help smooth the CEO succession process. Letting go of the status quo can be a challenge for the staff and board members as well as for the outgoing CEO. But it also brings opportunities to reflect on one’s role and on the strategic direction of the organisation.

When the successor is ready to move into the role of CEO, the outgoing should ave prepared to do something that can be even more difficult – to leave! This is to give space to the successor to take leadership and drive the show. Avoid the following at all costs: First situation: The Board must avoid the temptation of inviting the outgoing to join the board or given some consultancy to the organisation. There must be a specified period of non-involvement before invitation or even carefully consider role of involvement to ensure it does not conflict with leadership of the successor. If you really want your successor to be the CEO, fight this temptation. However, there are a few cases where this model has worked well.

It usually doesn’t! Second situation: The Board recalls the predecessor to replace the successor when hard times hit the organisation. This ‘comeback’ phenomenon is especially likely to occur if you are either the founder of the company – or the person largely credited with the company’s success. If the outgoing doesn’t want to leave then stay! The outgoing must be honest with oneself. Third situation: The outgoing left before he was scheduled to go. The successor was highly sought after, and, as a sign of his true commitment to succession, he left the company early so his successor would know the job was his.

This showed some real leadership! In terms of staying on, no matter how great outgoing was, he/she is going to have to leave sometime. We all get old – and we all die. The outgoing should all that is possible to make the successor a winner. Try to avoid the “return-from-the-grave” syndrome that is becoming far too common for CEOs. For example, don’t talk to the press – in a disparaging way – about the successor. Don’t fall into the trap of babbling on about ‘what I would have done’ if one of the successors ideas fails, or does not follow the leadership style of the outgoing.

If all goes well, the successor should have learnt a great lesson – how to successfully pass the baton of leadership to the successor who will then lead the organisation that will continue to prosper in the future – an organisation that will be prosper and leaders past or present will be proud of. 4 What is to be handed over Many handing over processes are mishandled due to ignorance or lack of fore consideration of what should be handed over. In addition to a statement of the current status of the organisation’s mission and its strategic priorities, many documents should be prepared.

This helps the outgoing to seriously reflect on the organisation as well us what has transpired during his tenure of leadership and where the organisation is currently in service delivery. In addition it provides an opportunity to organise the key documents that enshrine the policies, guidelines and processes in the organisation.

A list of available policies, where to find them and dates; A list of statutory policies in place and their current status; A pack containing key emergency policy information – e. g. ealth and safety, fire procedures, emergency procedures, key-holders; Organisation’s mission statement and core values; HR Handbook; A clear and concise list of staff; Job descriptions of key managers and staff; Organisations & facility Development Plans; Current financial state of organisation, Audit statements and Budget; Organisational Strategic plans; Organisation Self-Evaluation; List of key partners; List of current governors, with designations and terms of office; Governors’ meetings minutes; Copy of Trust Deed or Constitution (where applicable); and a Copy of instrument of governance. Always remember to pass on the password to allow the incoming to change to his/her own.

The actual handing over is an organised orderly process as planned in the induction and orientation schedule. It needs to be taken seriously and it may take more than the outgoing to do it. It is a shared responsibility with the Board Chairman, and key managers in the organisation. Where desirable and it is advisable that ceremonious handing over during the induction ceremony of the new CEO is conducted.

It marks a very clear end to the past leadership and a beginning of new leadership. On the day there is change in allegiance from one leader to another. It also provides an opportunity to celebrate the outgoing and the incoming. Managing Conflict in Transition The assumption, in this paper, has been a planned normal change. Yet there are situations which are adversarial for various reasons, where the transition has resulted in strained relationships.

This could arise from any of the following: A divided board; the CEO left in uncertain circumstances of trust; bad blood between the outgoing and the incoming executive; a rioting staff over their rights; serious economic environment forcing a re-strategising; sudden death or illness in the leadership; and many other situations that bring about an abrupt change in the leadership of the organisation. Any of these will bring about conflict that may affect the smooth transition and make a hard start for the incoming, however, this will test the leadership maturity of the successor.

Cases where the predecessors and their successors are on a war path are common, it some cases the predecessor is a ‘persona grata’ in organisations or in ‘self-exile’ they served very effectively. Grudges are carried to the grave instead of forgiveness among leaders who had been and remain ambassadors of reconciliation. The successor is going to make mistakes and fail where the predecessor was very successful, but also the successor may be a great success in areas where the predecessor did not make much progress. Sometimes the fame of the successor may dwarf the predecessor and the founder.

Where this should have been a complement, it becomes a subject of resentment. Here are common problems that the outgoing CEOs exhibit, that lead to potential problems: a. Why doesn’t the successor act like me? Successful human beings tend to ‘over weight’ their own strengths – and ‘under weight’ the weaknesses when evaluating themselves against others. The more successful one become, the more he/she can fall into the “superstition trap”, which, simple stated, is, “I behave this way. I am a successful CEO.

Therefore, I must be a successful CEO because I behave this way! It is a matter of fact that all successful leaders are successful because of many positive qualities and in spite of some behaviour that needs improvement. Take a hard look at your own strengths and challenges. There are many areas of differing strengths that cause conflict because the successor fails short according to the predecessor without taking note of other strengths of the successor. The successor cannot be a copy of the predecessor. Such differences bring divisions in organisations, boards, stakeholders, and staff.

Why doesn’t the successor think like me? It is hard for successful CEOs not to believe that their strategic thinking is the right strategic thinking. The predecessor has to “let go”. It can be very hard to watch the successor make decisions that are different than yours. The successor is going to manage the organisation in the future and will begin to make bigger difference in the manner decisions are made. Ego can get in the way. The predecessor may determine to influence the Board in a certain direction but the Board has to start to understand the strategy and evaluate of the successor in his own right and for the good of the organisation.

Why doesn’t successor love my friends? There is a tendency to overvalue input from people we personally like and respect – and undervalue people we don’t love as much. Face the fact that your successor may have different personal preferences than you. Your “trusted advisors” may not be his or hers. After the transition occurs, some of your friends will actually lose status or power –and may end up leaving the company. This is tough – both for them and for you!

The potential conflict can be avoided if during the induction and handover stage developmental goals were discussed in an atmosphere of honesty, taking note that the successor will not be a copy of the predecessor and that the style of leadership will be different. The successor has to deal with new challenges that require new strategy and solutions. After gathering feedback and suggestions, and looking in the mirror for the outgoing CEO own potential bias, it is time to start the process of coaching the successor.

Take all of the time that you need to have an honest, ‘heart-to-heart’ session: Assure the successor of the desire to help him/her succeed – not to watch him/her fail. Let him/her know how much you believe that he has the potential to be a great CEO. Hopefully, to become a better CEO! Share all that you have learned and discuss all that he has learned in the process of reviewing feedback and analyzing suggestions. b. Work together to determine the key areas for behaviour change that will lead to the maximum positive relationships with key stakeholders: In many cases, behaviour that needs to be changed is consistent in all groups.

For example, almost everyone may agree that your successor needs to be a better listener. In other cases, behavioural change may need to be tailored to the stakeholder group. For example, peers may feel that your successor is too assertive, while Board members report that he is not assertive enough. c. The goal-setting process needs to end with clear, desired outcomes: Your successor agrees to do a great job of demonstrating agreed upon behaviour as judged by agreed upon stakeholders. The long run goal is simple.

Your successor needs to successfully develop the skills – and build the relationships – needed to make him a great CEO. d. In some cases, you – as a coach – may feel a little hypocritical: You may be asking him to do some things that you haven’t done very well yourself! Be open and let him be assured of assistance and support from the board to see success in those areas. e. In setting goals, show some flexibility: If his/her words for desired change are almost the same as yours – go with his/her. On the other hand, stand firm on the ‘big issues’ that you believe he needs to tackle.

At the end of the goal-setting meeting, get his/her sincere commitment to change: If your successor needs to change behaviour in order to develop better relationships with key stakeholders, if he/she is willing to try and if he is given a fair chance – I will share a process that can help you become the coach who helps him/her achieve positive, lasting change.


The goal is for a smooth transition. There is no transition that is like another, all transitions will be unique, even in the same organisation. There are a few universals that apply to all.

First impressions last forever. It is essential to craft a transition process that puts all participants in the best possible light out of the gate both for the incoming and the outgoing. A poor start only creates sizable obstacles that must then be overcome before real progress can begin. The incoming executive is, unfortunately, in the least-best position to craft an effective transition. He/she knows less about the culture, dynamics, personalities, and traditions than anyone (assuming this is an outsider, of course).

This is why the board has to make it a priority to ensure transition policies and guidelines, and wise to enlist talented insiders to help plan and manage the process. Executive changes are commonplace, by creating tailored, effective transition processes, will minimise stress and uncertainty and maximise early productivity and a positive start.


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  4. Collins, James, Porras, Jerry, and Collins, Harper, 1994, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, NYC.
  5. Executive Transitions: Grant Makers and Non-profit Leadership, www. grantcratf. org.
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  10. Emergency Succession Plan Template (Center for Non-Profit Advancement): http://www. nonprofitadvancement. org/information4812/information. htm
  11. TAE Issue Brief: Public-Private Partnerships Case Studies: http://www. adrc-tae. org/tiki-index. php? page=TAEIssueBriefs#partnerships
  12. TAE Issue Brief: Strategies for Building Collaboration: http://www. adrc-tae. rg/tiki-index. php? page=TAEIssueBriefs#collaboration
  13. Annie E. Casey Foundation Leadership Development Publications: http://www. aecf. org/initiatives/leadership/reading. htm

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Managing Transition. (2018, Mar 01). Retrieved from