Once a leadership transition has happened, whether planned or unplanned, it’s important to focus on:

Communication, Fiscal Matters and Boards

Community/Participants Communication

Your participants are perhaps the most critical stakeholders you need to communicate with. Here are some specific tips for communicating with program participants:

  • Prioritize effects on services. This is some sample language to use:
    • The leadership transition will not affect services or hours. Please see our website for specific hours and services.
    • During this transition time, we are modifying services by [insert changes]. These changes will take effect [insert time] and will continue for [insert timeframe or “indefinitely”].
    • However, [insert services] will remain unchanged; you will see the same efforts from the team at the same time!
    • Please contact [contact person] for any additional questions or concerns.
  • Use a tone consistent with previous communications.
  • Update your website to reflect any changes in services.
  • Keep in mind that SSP participants may not have access to technology. Create flyers and posters with any service change information where applicable.

Staff Communication

To avoid the potential conflicts that can result from misinformation, it is essential to communicate with staff as soon and as often as possible. Here are some for keeping staff informed regarding transitions:

  • Communicate initial information in person, when possible.
  • Increase the frequency of all staff meetings if the transition is sudden or unexpected and/or if staff requests it.
  • Communicate frequently, even if the update is “There is no update”.
  • Use a tone consistent with previous communications.
  • Explicitly and repeatedly explain effects on jobs.
  • Describe areas where staff should expect some change and explain why.
  • Clearly communicate any new/different/additional responsibilities.
  • Clearly communicate any alterations in services so that staff can ensure that participants have necessary information.
  • Increase opportunities for staff to provide feedback or ask questions.

Partners and Funder Communication

Communicating with funders and partners was often cited as one of the most anxiety provoking aspects of transitions. The funders we interviewed understood this but had some essential advice regarding contact with them and partner agencies both before and during transition:

  • Do not be intimidated by your funders. They funded you because they wanted you to succeed and are often more than willing to support your agency during even the messiest transitions.
  • Where possible, ask funders for help with transition planning before a transition occurs. During a transition, especially an unexpected one, consider calling rather than emailing funders and partners with initial information. Email is fine for follow-up communication, but a phone call allows funders to offer immediate information and support and to ask any questions they may have.
  • Ask key funders, especially those who routinely support harm reduction, for the help you need. Where possible, be explicit about how the transition will and will not affect the relationship. If you are not sure, it is okay to say so.
  • Review grants and contracts for language or guidance on timeframes for communicating leadership change.

Media Communication

Many organizations will have no relationship with the media and no reason to contact them, but some organizations may find themselves in the public eye and will need to consider how to handle the media. Leaders had these suggestions:

  • Evaluate the pros and cons of communicating with the media.
  • Prepare a statement and get others’ opinions in advance of talking with media.
  • Be explicit at the beginning of the conversation if there is anything that you are not able or willing to share.
  • Download the sample announcement templates and sample language from the tools section of this site.

Ready4Change Tools

Communication Tips

Timely and accurate communication sets the tone for any transition. Here are a few general tips from people who have been through both planned and unplanned leadership transitions:

  • Be accurate – Especially in the case of a sudden or unexpected transition, it is important to avoid amplifying misinformation. If you are not sure that you have accurate information, do not hypothesize. Instead, state that more information is being gathered and will be forthcoming.
  • Be honest and specific – If you cannot be specific about a particular aspect of the situation, still address the issue by saying that specifics are not publicly available at the time and why. Missing information creates opportunities for uncertainty among staff and participants.
  • Keep talking – Even if you lack information, try to provide regular updates even if all you can say is “We are still working on this, we’re doing (blank) and/or have run into (blank) roadblock and we’ll update you as soon as possible”.
  • Identify one person to consistently deliver all external communications, such as a board member, the interim ED or a manager/deputy director.
  • Include approximate timelines in all communications and don’t l forget these elements:
    • Leadership transition status (outgoing and/or incoming)
    • Effects on services
    • Interim points of contact (even if previously communicated)
    • Organizational stability
Although we live in an information technology age, we often find ourselves in failure to communicate situations.
Johnny Tan

For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. 

James Baldwin
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