Retaining Key Executives After a Leadership Transition

By: Jeff Kirschner

A critical challenge facing new senior executives is retaining key talent.

There can be pitfalls along the path of leadership transition. If the new leader has been selected from within the company, then other internal executives who were passed over for the role may have bruised egos. If the new executive has been brought in from the outside, long-term insiders may question the new leader’s commitment to company values and business practices. In each of these scenarios, the “what about me?” question prevails.

In either scenario, the result is the same: The new leader must take action to re-enroll others in a shared vision for the future. How, you ask? Here are some suggestions for you if that new leader is you:

  • Sit down with each of your direct reports to investigate their reaction to your joining the company. This is an opportunity to listen to their personal vision and aspirations, and to explore any advice that they might have to help with your assimilation into the organization. While this meeting will also serve as an opportunity to assess their potential contributions, defer any evaluative comments until you have an opportunity to see them in action. If possible, reassure them about their importance to the company’s success.
  • Determine who is going to be on your innermost leadership team and bring them offsite for a business planning session. Consider bringing in a facilitator to help the team determine their purpose, rules for engagement, and critical challenges for strategy execution. Your goal for this meeting should be to gain agreement toward a shared vision that will energize and align the team to achieve a future state. Be careful to encourage discussion amongst the team and have each member sign off on the vision statement to ensure ongoing support down the line.
  • Conduct town hall meetings to listen to employee concerns and inform them about company direction. Be very visible during these first few weeks, and plan on spending plenty of time walking around and listening to feedback up and down the organization. Consider developing additional channels for communication, whether via email, video, or print mediums.
  • Meet with compensation professionals to develop retention strategies for key talent. Take 90 days to evaluate who you want to retain and who you see as less critical to company success, and provide retention benefits accordingly. Keep in mind that tasking your colleagues with a strategic business challenge indicates that you have faith in them and trust them with important work, which are two critical elements of employee retention.

The most important reasons that individuals stay with their companies include having a positive relationship with their boss, knowing that their work has tangible impact on business results, and seeing a developmental path forward to achieve their personal and career goals. As a leader, you should check in with your top talent on these issues to ensure that you and your organization are providing a hospitable environment to engage and retain these key workers.

Nothing will be more important than maintaining a continuous and open communication channel between and across your critical constituents. Listening is a critical skill for a new leader, and enabling the organization to work together effectively requires that you connect different parts of your network while providing guidance and strategic direction for the future.  Giving and receiving timely feedback will help lift organizational performance and build capability.

As a new senior executive, your constituents will be paying attention not to what you say, but rather to what you do. Valuing team members and demonstrating your support for them will speak volumes in retaining key talent.