Leadership changes can be a massive undertaking and stressful period for any company. Internally, structures are changing, new philosophies and perspectives are being implemented and the direction of a company can shift. Stacked on top of that, leadership changes often need to be communicated on a very short timeline and given the sensitivities, the circle of people who are in the know is often small, which means less hands to help.
As communicators, we can alleviate the pressure that comes along with announcing a leadership change and establish a foundation for success with practices like setting the narrative, managing internal and external audiences, and choosing the right time to announce. With that in mind, here are the do’s and don’ts of a successful leadership change announcement.
Do: Set the Narrative
Setting the narrative for a leadership transition is essential to a smooth announcement. Establish the right message and tone up front on the “why” behind the transition, including why it’s an exciting opportunity for the future of the company, its customers, employees and any other relevant audiences. Leadership changes are a natural part of running any business, the goal is to make it feel this way.
Don’t: Share the News With Too Many External Parties
Given the sensitivity of a leadership announcement, it’s critical to be selective about who you share this information with externally. If you choose to share the news as part of an embargo, only disclose the news to a select number of trusted (and predetermined) reporters and outlets. The more people that are aware of the news, the bigger risk you run of leaks and people finding out about the news through unofficial channels first.
Do: Be Thoughtful of ALL Audiences (Internal and External)
Many times people focus solely on one and not the other. It’s critical to consider internal stakeholders at the company and external audiences. Remember that your external audience is more than just media – you’ll need to consider customers, partners, investors, and other key stakeholders. Factor in how each of these audiences will interpret and react to the announcement, and in turn, how you can best land your desired narrative.
Don’t: Wait Until the News Is Out to Tell Employees
Employees shouldn’t learn about a significant company announcement through an article or any other external source. If you don’t invest the time to speak with them beforehand, they can have a skewed perception of what is actually happening, and it could alter their perception of the company. Poor communication with employees can tarnish relationships, potentially creating unnecessary retention risks.
Do: Consider the Timing
There is never a perfect time to announce a leadership change. But, there are better times than others, so be clear on the desired outcome. If your goal is little to no press coverage, then announcing a leadership change during a busy news period (i.e., during a popular trade show) could be your best bet. If the goal is to secure tons of coverage, think about a quieter time when you have a better chance of breaking through. But be mindful of how a leadership announcement could impact other near term activities – for example, if you announce during a busy show where you have lots of other news planned, you could easily derail your own plans.
Don’t: Stay Quiet
If people have questions, both internally and externally, don’t stay quiet! Staying quiet allows for speculation to brew and weakens your ability to own the narrative and stave off negative press. The best course of action with a leadership announcement is transparency. Be prepared to answer any and all questions that arise.
Although leadership changes are an intimidating process to tackle, the right PR team can help you navigate a successful leadership change. Need to connect with a stellar PR team? Reach out to us here.