Strategies for a smooth transition

Dec 04, 2023

By following these steps, any organization can navigate significant change with confidence and continuity.

Change is an ever-present force in the business world. It manifests due to market shifts, growth, technological advancements, the constant need for innovation, and leadership transitions. Organizations must adapt to stay competitive and thrive in this dynamic environment. The appointment of new leadership ranks among an organization’s most significant catalysts of change. As a leader, I recognize that assuming a new role introduces fresh perspectives, new objectives, and different management styles. Nonetheless, it can also spark uncertainty among employees. Effectively managing this change during the transition is imperative to ensure a seamless shift and achieving successful outcomes.

In October, it was an incredible honor to assume the role of CEO of Westwood Professional Services and officially complete a yearlong leadership transition with our former CEO and Jerry Allen Courage in Leadership Award winner, Paul Greenhagen.

Over the past year, Paul and I carried out a five-step plan that helped excite the team for change and mitigate challenges and concerns, and included:

  1. Communicating the vision. Effective communication is the bedrock of successful change management. As the new CEO, I understand the importance of clearly articulating my vision for the organization and the direction in which we are heading. Explaining the rationale behind the vision, the benefits it will bring for our people, and how it aligns with our long-term goals is vital. Transparency and openness build confidence among employees and help them grasp the broader picture.
  2. Spending time with the people. The best way to build trust is to spend time with the people in your organization. Months prior to the CEO transition, Paul and I spent a significant amount of time visiting Westwood offices. The purpose of these visits was to communicate the vision and demonstrate a seamless transition of knowledge, culture, and relationships. Through the visits, Westwood employees were able to see that the transition was a collaborative effort with the best interest of the company in mind.
  3. Transitioning responsibilities over time. An abrupt transfer of responsibilities can lead to confusion and instability. Therefore, we began the transition of responsibilities in the fall of 2022, nearly a year in advance. The process started slowly and then accelerated as we moved into 2023. This set the stage for a nearly seamless transition on October 2, 2023. Transitioning over time allowed me to gradually adapt to the responsibilities that come with the role while still allowing Paul to mentor me through the process. I contributed to significant decisions that will impact the organization for years to come, and Paul was able to progress into retirement. I am grateful to Paul during this transition for his generosity and guidance throughout this process.
  4. Letting the new leader pick their team. Successful leaders build teams that are united and where each individual compliments the whole team. The needs within a group can vary based on leadership. What is needed within the framework can be different based on each leader’s strengths, weaknesses, and personality. The team makeup that works for one leader may not work for another. It is important that the leader who is transitioning out keeps this in mind when hiring decisions are being made to fill roles that affect the makeup of the leadership team. Westwood brought in a new chief financial officer and chief human resources officer in 2023, and in both instances, Paul allowed me to lead the process.
  5. Celebrating the change. Recognizing and celebrating milestones and achievements throughout the journey is essential while also building excitement and anticipation for the future. Helping employees see change as an opportunity for growth, innovation, and fresh perspective will position the organization to embrace future challenges and, more importantly, the possibilities that come with a new CEO. Celebrating this together, we realize we can accomplish even greater achievements.

A CEO transition is more than a handover of power; it’s a transition of the organization’s spirit, culture, and goals. During the transition, it is essential to maintain stability and continue to drive the company toward its goals. This five-step methodology was the strategic framework Paul and I used to ensure a successful transition. By following these steps, any organization can navigate significant change with confidence and continuity.

As our team bids farewell to Paul and celebrates his success as a leader, we are excited for the next chapter and ready to embrace a shared commitment to harness new opportunities, setting the stage for future growth and success. 

Bryan Powell is CEO of Westwood Professional Services. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.