So much of a company’s DNA is shaped by its leadership: the example they set, the culture they enforce, the policies they implement and the way they interact with and treat their fellow associates. As such, when someone in the C-Suite retires and an outsider steps in, it can be quite stressful — unless the transition is a smooth and careful one, that is.
At Pacesetter, where I’ve just been appointed CFO, my predecessor was a family fixture and veteran associate of 34 years. The incomparable Jon Rapaport left big shoes to fill, having shaped the company in more ways than anyone could hope to count. A trailblazer in innovation and legendary problem-solver, Jon’s fingerprints are all over Pacesetter, and his responsibilities spanned multiple departments.
When someone that monumental hands over the reigns, it can’t be an abrupt pass. While I’m very confident in my experience and abilities, the point is to make the transition as smooth as possible so that the company can carry on without setbacks. Jon and the Pacesetter leaders, including the CEO, Aviva Leebow Wolmer, made this transition smoother than I could have hoped for. Now, Jon can retire with confidence in his legacy, and I can begin my journey with conviction.
Leadership transitions are not uncommon, but they are very important to get right. Here’s some advice on enabling smooth transitions from my experience and research.
Analyzing the circumstances
Leadership transitions could be needed for a variety of reasons, and depending on the circumstances, the steps you take to find and integrate a new leader will be different. For example, if a CEO is being replaced because they’ve taken the company in the wrong direction, the next step will be different than, for example, what might follow a CEO’s retirement.
When it’s time for a transition, then, companies need to analyze the situation and ask the right questions before moving forward. Are we looking for a totally new direction, or someone who will pick up where their predecessor left off? It’s not necessarily always one or the other; often, transitions present an opportunity to find a leader that brings new skills to the table while also sharing the company’s values.
Finding the right fit
There are many ways to find the right fit when an opening crops up. Sometimes, it’s a good opportunity to promote from within. Pacesetter is an advocate of this strategy in many cases.
That said, there are many good reasons to bring in an outsider, especially in positions of leadership. You’ll want someone with leadership experience, ideally in the same industry or similar. You’ll also want someone who shares the company’s beliefs and will be a good culture fit.
As it happens, Pacesetter used a great tech tool called BestWork Data to find me. Instead of acting as a candidate filter like an APS, this tool helped identify gaps and find out how I, the candidate, would get along with the rest of the team. Whether or not you use tech to help, these are important things to keep in mind.
Pacesetter chose me for numerous reasons, including my experience as CFO in the manufacturing industry, and the virtues on company culture I have extolled in my career. All of these are considerations that must be made when making a new leadership hire, as they will influence the company’s path forward.
Work together, and take your time
Perhaps most importantly, it’s helpful, if not vital, when the predecessor takes time to work with a new appointment and train them on the various aspects of the company and job. This works best if the leader that’s stepping down gives ample notice in order to work alongside others to pass on knowledge to the new hire.
I was extremely lucky to be trained by Jon, Aviva, and the team. While I don’t doubt there are other ways knowledge can be passed along, working with him really demonstrated the nuances of the role and its relationship to the rest of the company. While there’s a case to be made for being thrown right into the fire, I truly believe that an attentive and cautious transition ensures things are smoother all around.
Be prepared and provide support
Lastly, no matter how slow and smooth the transition, companies should be prepared for a few hiccups when the transition is through. The best way to prepare for this is to have a support system that the new hire can take advantage while they get used to the job.
Already, I feel incredibly supported by the Pacesetter team. Whether there are hiccups or not as I take the reins, I feel grateful for the help I’ve had so far and confident that there will be much more along the way, if and when it’s needed. After all, healthy teams support each other and help the company thrive. That’s what I’m most excited about at Pacesetter, and as I embark on this new opportunity, I’m thrilled to fill Jon’s shoes to the best of my ability.