Senior leaders who stick around after they have said they are leaving are a real headache for any internal communicator trying to establish a new strategic narrative.
Senior leaders who stick around after they have said they are leaving are rarely an asset for an organisation or institution. And, they are the cause of a real headache for any internal communicator if they do.
As I write this, Boris Johnson has finally acknowledged the writing on the wall and has decided (or been coerced) to resign from his role as Conservative Party Leader. However, he has also suggested that he will stay on until the ‘autumn’ as a caretaker Prime Minister. This is a nightmare scenario which will do nothing for continuity or progression in the government.
When an organisational leader resigns, particularly if that leader is discredited or a failure, the organisation needs to move on quickly if it is to recover from the body blow and preserve reputational credibility and performance. Internal communicators have an important role to play in this process.
The departure of an organisational leader, and the subsequent arrival of a new one, almost always results in a change of business thinking and strategy that has implications for the employees who work in the organisation. I have witnessed this countless times in my career as a communicator, and been called on to communicate that new strategy and approach to employees.
The quicker this communication happens the better, because senior leadership change has the potential to unsettle other leaders, managers and employees. If that uncertainty is not resolved quickly, more departures and chaos inevitably ensue and the organisation will suffer more uncertainty which will be detrimental to morale and the achievement of business objectives.
Strategic narrative is an important component for creating employee engagement. It is one of the areas where internal communicators can have immense impact in organisations. A carefully crafted ‘story’ of what the organisation is, where it has come from and where it is going to is a powerful communication asset that I would say is an essential tool for any internal communicator. Done well, it can demonstrate continuity, progression and certainty about the future direction of travel. It helps employees to understand what they need to do to contribute to organisational success and the clarity it provides has benefits for employees, related to wellbeing and the ability to perform.
When an organisational leader declares that they are leaving, but sticking around for a while, continuity stalls and the organisation can enter a period of ‘communication stagnation’ during a critical time of change. Decision making at the senior level becomes paralysed, business strategy unclear and no-one can give you a straight answer about what will happen next, about pretty much anything of strategic importance.
This is an impossible situation for the internal communicator trying to adapt the strategic narrative, or establish a new one. I know this from personal experiences of sometimes working with dithering leadership teams, who during a protracted leadership transition, are unable to articulate a clear way forward.
In his accelerator model of change management, Dr John Kotter highlights the importance of forming a strategic vision and communicating about this prodigiously.
Leadership teams in a period of transition would do well to be mindful of this, and work with their internal communicators to establish a new strategic narrative as quickly as they can, if they are truly interested in achieving organisational success.