A widely known and highly regarded local citizen had established a foundation to improve the health and well-being of young people. The effort was a noble success, in part, because of the founder’s prominence in the community. But what would happen if the founder died suddenly? Would the financial future of the foundation be in jeopardy?
And what about your company? Are you prepared for a dramatic leadership transition?
A succession plan is Part One of maintaining stability and continuity. Part Two is being prepared to expeditiously communicate that plan.
At most companies, meeting payrolls, boosting sales and controlling expenses top the corporate must-do list. Succession plans for key executives may not be accorded that level or priority. In fact, about two thirds of U.S. companies have no succession plans at all.
More alarming is that even those that do make a plan seldom think about how to communicate the significant changes to key constituents –– employees, suppliers and customers. In many cases, especially in small or family-owned companies, lines of succession may appear to be obvious. What’s not obvious is the need to communicate the implications of succession.
Companies in transition must signal stability, continuity and reliability. Failure to have a plan risks sending the opposite message. You can find examples in college football. Established head coaches recruit and train key assistants to maintain a high-performance environment. Recruiting talented players depends on the prospects’ faith in the coaches’ ability to help them succeed. How often have you seen high-schoolers who’ve selected a college to attend change their minds when they learn that the head coach is leaving?
The same disruption can happen in business: Customers and clients accustomed to a company’s stable leadership will be unsettled by any change of leadership.
Elements of a succession communications plan include:
- A holding statement that can be used immediately in the case of an accident or unexpected death
- An internal announcement to board members and employees
- A statement and background materials for local and industry media in all markets in which the company operates
- A social media plan and content
- Communication to customers, vendors and, in the case of nonprofits, donors and members
Clear, timely communication is always important — and even more so when your organization is in transition.