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Successors - 7 Tips for Taking Over the Reins

Every organization goes through some form of transition.  At computer giant HP, the hook has been used twice within the past ten years on leaders who seemed ready but somehow managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of their personal victories.  How can you avoid having something like that happen in your own organization?

The answer comes from what might first seem to be an unlikely source.  In 2006, the World Health Organization began using surgical checklists to better manage the risks associated with surgical procedures.  Looking outside their own medical fields, the WHO team borrowed some of the best practices used in the aviation industry.

So, what does this have to do with successor transition?  Successors, no matter how bright and well prepared they appear to be, need help in planning the new administration.  If you are the successor in transition, here are some ways to “hit the ground running”.  Feel free to add to the list. 

  1. Think about the impact of the transition on other people.  Who wanted the top spot and didn’t get it?  What key clients are going to have concerns about the “newbie”?  What potential clients or customers can be surfaced because of the “newbie”? Who’s going to stay?  Who’s going to go?  Is there internal talent available to fill the holes?

  2. Establish the time frame and intended outcomes of the transition.  Include in that list an initial set of priorities for strengthening processes and procedures that allows others to understand and work toward a new set of expectations.

  3. Control your agenda and allocate your time.  You have three resources available to you:  people, time, and money.  Time is not recoverable.  Spend it carefully.

  4. Make every effort to work with those already in place.  If that proves too difficult, allow people to leave with as much dignity and respect as possible.  In some cases, that might mean more than you think they deserve.  Regardless, leave people whole.

  5. Develop a communications plan and stay on message.  Develop themes that allow you to tell the story of the new administration.  Make sure your story includes what you expect and how you expect business to be carried out.

  6. Get balanced feedback.  Remember that people are doing what you want, at least in the beginning, because of your position.  They do not necessarily believe that you are the brightest star in the heavens, but they do know what position you have.

  7. Establish and follow a set of personal ground rules that embellish your reputation.  If you’re going to read about yourself in the Wall Street Journal or New York Times or your local paper, behave in ways that make it difficult for them to be critical of what you did or how you acted.  It’s easy for people to be loyal to someone they admire and respect.  It’s a whole different matter when the tables are turned.


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