How to ensure a seamless transition with executive staff

Over a year ago, I took on a new leadership position that was put in place due to the pending retirement of a very experienced senior executive.

As we celebrated the senior executive’s retirement recently, it became apparent that several key factors led to the successful transition — both from the company’s standpoint and from my standpoint as the new leader. Here are three key elements that helped to smooth this transition for our company:

Be aware of your company’s culture
Do you have a very fast moving, fast paced environment or is your company and your staff less inclined to absorb change quickly and easily? In my case, I was hired a full 18 months prior to the retirement, which was an important consideration for both our company and the industry.

Consider a new location
If you have decided on a transition time that is longer than six months, consider moving the retiring executive to a different assignment and, if possible, to a different office location. At my new company, the executive took on a different and critical assignment that was not only of benefit to the company, but was key to the success of the transition.

I was, therefore, empowered from day one to run the day-to-day business and given that the executive was moved to a different location, the team started to quickly see me as the leader.

Communicate to the team
Throughout the transition time, you need to ensure that while the retiring executive is included, the new leader leads all team communication. This will help the team focus on the new leader, while still having the vast knowledge and stable presence of the retiring executive as part of the team.

From my standpoint as the new leader of the division and a new employee with the company, several things I did likely helped ease the transition as well. By involving and actively seeking the advice of the retiring executive, I quickly gained an understanding of the company as well as the industry.

I also listened and spent a lot of time talking with not just my direct staff, but all staff members, to understand their jobs and learn about their challenges and opportunities. Finally, I focused on the team’s needs and, when possible, acted on their input and advice, and that helped me to build credibility as their new leader.

One of the most important things that we need to do as business leaders is sometimes one of the most challenging. Planning for senior executive retirements is essential to the health of your overall business and doing it well in advance will help to ensure a smooth transition to the new leader. ●

Anne Stewart is the general manager for North American Floral Operations at Smithers-Oasis Co.