HR Answers: Preparing Employees for a Successful Leadership Transition

businessperson placing a red puzzle piece representing a leader between blue puzzle pieces representing employee team
By Catherine Holland

4 minutes

4 tips for facilitating a smooth adjustment when the new boss arrives

If you’ve worked at the same credit union for years, you’ve likely grown accustomed to how things are run. Learning that there will be a change of leadership may then instill feelings of fear, anxiety and even frustration.

Our careers are our livelihoods; we rely on stable employment to pay our bills, provide for our loved ones and keep ourselves healthy. When a new leader or manager steps in, employees might fear that their jobs are on the line.

Change is hard. Humans are creatures of habit, and adapting to a new relationship or job expectations takes time.

According to research, 60% of new managers fail to succeed in their roles in the first two years. Why is this number so high? It has a lot to do with how the team works to integrate with the new manager (and how the manager works to integrate with the team.). As an HR professional, you can help prevent miscommunications and address concerns that employees may have.

How can you facilitate a smoother transitional period when a new boss steps in? Here are a few ways you can prepare employees and help them adjust:

Meet With the Entire Team and Individuals

Understandably, you don’t want to alert employees before the hiring process is finalized. But waiting too long can allow rumors to spread. You have two options:

  1. Break the news to everyone at once. To prevent the word from getting out ahead of you, you can tell everyone about the change in leadership at the same time. In your own words, you can explain what’s happening and what people can expect.

This approach has its downsides. It’s tough to predict how people will react to the news, especially in such a large setting. Tensions could run high. Try to have the the previous and new boss in the same room when you alert employees, if possible.

When the meeting concludes, be sure to let the staff know that they can talk to you privately afterward.

  1. Meet with individuals to share the news. With this approach, there’s a higher chance that people will hear about the news before you tell them yourself. However, it allows employees to express things that they might have felt uncomfortable sharing with the group.

The mental health of your employees is important. The staff shouldn’t worry about surviving economic uncertainty because a new boss has stepped in. Reassure them that the change in leadership, whether it’s the appointment of a new CEO or a new department head, doesn’t mean things are going under—it just means that the leadership will be different.

After the dust settles, employees will remember how you helped them handle a tough time.

Anticipate Backlash

A change in leadership might be the trigger that some employees were waiting for. One change can create a domino effect; some people may ask for a raise, while others could quit their position. On a smaller scale, employees might take this opportunity to voice some of their concerns or ideas about how the organization is run.

Certain employees might test the new boss—they knew what rules the former manager was strict about and which ones they were lax about. You may see people walk in late, lower productivity, or employees taking extra-long lunch breaks to see how the manager will react.

Communicate Openly With Everyone

Employees expect their boss to lead their team. If those employees have been at the credit union longer than their manager, it may create an imbalance. How do they trust someone who doesn’t know the ins and outs of the organization?

The HR department proves invaluable during a time like this—its actions can determine whether the change in leadership is successful or not. HR managers act as mediators between the employees and the employer. They’re the ones employees go to when they have concerns about their job and how they’re being treated.

Are any employees concerned about the transition? Voice their issues to the new boss. If this situation is mishandled, employees may take their jobs less seriously or quit altogether.

Schedule a Team-Building Activity

A new leader can change the group dynamic of the team. A few fun questions can help to ease the tension.

Schedule a group activity during a lunch break or before your next team meeting. To start the conversation, try icebreakers like:

  • If you could only take three things with you to a deserted island, what would they be?
  • What are your favorite things to do in your free time?
  • Do you have a favorite flavor of coffee or tea?

The success of the business relies on cooperation between team members. If employees feel like they don’t know their boss, they might be less comfortable communicating their ideas. Use these icebreakers to help the staff get to know their new manager better.

It’s tough to adjust to new leadership, and it won’t happen overnight. It may take weeks or months for employees to settle in with the new boss. With patience, open communication and team-building activities, you can help staff develop a professional, friendly and respectful relationship with their new leader.

Catherine Holland is a writer based in Canada. She writes articles with a focus on marketing and entrepreneurship for a variety of businesses. Some of her favourite pieces can be found on the Jason Brice | Business Broker’s website.

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