When there is a shift in executive leadership, organizations experience many new and often unexpected challenges. Transition Management research has shown that awareness and understanding of the transition process can benefit all staff and Board members in maintaining a positive outlook about these changes. It can also better prepare the organization for its next phase of leadership. In addition, a new Executive Director entering an organization will have an easier time adjusting if the organization has done this preparation and if it has been viewed with high levels of optimism about the future of the agency.
Some important concepts about transitions:
- Change is the objective event: loss of Executive Director; new Executive is hired.
- Transition is the psychological process of reorientation as a result of the change(s).
- Transitions must be well managed or change becomes unmanageable.
- Transitions include three overlapping phases consisting of:
An Ending Phase– gaining closure on the executive’s departure;
A Middle Phase or the Neutral Zone – a time of organizational vulnerability, and importantly, of heightened opportunity; and
A New Beginning Phase– includes the new executive’s welcome and onboarding, and significant organizational changes and new ways of doing business.
My goal as an Interim Executive Director is to be as clear and supportive as possible with the Board of Directors and staff throughout the leadership transition. Some Boards will want to better understand succession planning and how they can best prepare for these changes and avoid pitfalls that might lead to a failed chief executive placement. Others want to utilize the transition time as an opportunity to revisit and reflect on their own governance policies and practices to be sure they are ready to welcome a new chief executive into a reinvigorated organization. Staff often approach leadership transitions with curiosity about the what the future holds, and a willingness to be part of the process that will ultimately lead to the hiring of a new leader.
I remain open to new ideas while guiding organizations based on my accumulated knowledge, recognizing that new and creative thinking invariably emerges from a transition process. Most importantly, I find the Board is passionate about and willing to take on the important responsibility of searching for a new chief executive while keeping the organization strong and staff morale high. All that is needed is a little expert guidance.