Feb 17

Four Steps to a Flawless Transition Announcement

Recently, Sequoia Capital made the decision to shake up its leadership team, a move that can potentially leave a business on rocky ground. New-hire announcements don’t make the most exciting press releases, but don’t underestimate how much is at stake when public-facing companies change leadership roles. Before you utter a single peep, consider all possible reactions from the public, stakeholders, employees, investors and clients. Addressing everyone’s’ concerns is a challenge! Here are four tips to help you master your next transition announcement.

  1. Clarity – Draft an impactful statement using clean, concise language that addresses the five W’s in the very first paragraph.
    1. Who – is leaving and who will be taking the reins?
    2. What – will the vacated role and title change? What is the new reporting structure?
    3. When – will the vacated position be filled immediately?
    4. Where – will the new hire work at company headquarters? Where did he/she come from?
    5. Why – what prompted the transition?
    6. How – manage the expectations and fears of all involved. Address the details behind the significance of the change, its forward-looking strategy and goals.

Joe Ripp, CEO of Time Inc., executed this strategy well when announcing a confusing and potentially concerning structural change within the company. He breaks out the different departments and outlines in detail exactly what will change within each and WHY – which is unusual and quite refreshing. 

  1. Honesty – Jim Goetz, the exiting partner at Sequoia Capital, is straightforward about his reasons for leaving. He needs time to fulfill his own dreams outside of Sequoia, and he is making way for his successor, Roelof Botha, to come in and make the role his own. He asserts that Sequioa has evolved and exceeded expectations by embracing change and innovation, and that empowering the next generation is critical to ensure the longevity of Sequoia’s success. The announcement leaves stakeholders with an understanding of the firm’s culture and insight into how this change feeds the greater benefit of the company. It also leaves no doubts to Goetz’s whereabouts – his absence will be temporary in order to allow for a smooth transition, but he will be back to serve on the board. Addressing stakeholders’ natural questions upfront is one of the best ways to put fears and concerns to rest. Bonus tip: a little enthusiasm can go a long way.
  1. Newsworthy– Deloitte’s 2015 announcement that Cathy Engelbert would become “the first female CEO of a major audit and consulting firm in the U.S.” turned a cut-and-dry announcement into an empowering news story that attracted considerable industry media attention. Obviously this can’t be done with every CEO (particularly those of the older, white male variety), but highlighting a differentiator in the first line is a brilliant PR strategy. A good news hook shifts attention away from any potential upheaval within a company in transition, and presents a fresh angle from which to cover the story.
  1. Personality – If you don’t have a story, make one. To enhance a digital marketing campaign, Choice Hotels created a new position with an unorthodox title: The Ultimate People Person. The announcement is consistent with the brand’s personality, using concise language and vivid imagery (photos are necessary, but often overlooked in transition announcements!). A custom hashtag campaign, #ChoicePeoplePerson, gives the audience a venue by which to comment on the news, and more importantly, enables the company to gauge interest and quantify feedback. It also provides an avenue to follow up with commentators, turning an announcement into a conversation. The release lays out exactly what the new Choice People Person’s role will entail (traveling between the hotel chain’s international luxury resorts), and invites readers to follow along, participate in online community conversations, and of course, live vicariously.

Contrary to popular practice, a transitional phase doesn’t have to be confusing to stakeholders, boring to media or chaotic for employees. No matter what’s really going on behind the scenes, your company will benefit from presenting a positive, well-executed transition announcement that drives a deeper connection with your audience. When your new CEO starts off on the right foot, you might even get some bonus points – or a promotion to the company Ultimate People Person.

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