How to Keep Employees Motivated During a Leadership Transition

A leadership transition can be both an exhilarating and a terrifying time. For those who know what to expect, it’s likely a chance to get excited about a new chapter in the life of the company. However, for those who were either unaware or unsuspecting, the promise of change can bring about fear and anxiety, which is going to kill productivity in the short term, and it could also hurt workplace morale and culture in the long term.

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Leadership transitions can come about in a number of different ways. Perhaps someone is retiring or moving to another job, and he or she is being replaced by someone from within or without. Or, leadership transitions could take place because of a merger or acquisition.

Of these two scenarios, the second is sure to cause the most uncertainty and have the most dramatic effect on employee morale. But the strategies for managing the change are similar for both. So, to make sure people stay focused and working toward a common goal, consider the following about organizational change.

Upfront and Honest Communication

The biggest reason people are scared of change is uncertainty. Many people consider a bad situation they know about to be better than an unknown situation that might be better, simply because they know what to expect.

The way to fight against this and to keep people motivated is to do your best to limit uncertainty. Hold regular meetings to update people about the status of the transition, and give people the chance to ask questions, making sure to be as open as possible in your response.

If you don’t know the answer, just say you don’t know. Getting politically correct is a good way to fuel the fire of uncertainty and make things worse. And in the event there are layoffs or other changes, make sure to tell people as soon as you can. This stuff always hurts, but it’s better to be up front about it than to exacerbate the anxiety of uncertainty.

Part of the objective of this is to limit the creation and spread of rumors. As soon as the transition is announced, people will begin conjuring up theories about what to expect. But by establishing a regular flow of communication, people will know not to trust what they hear at the water cooler, and they will also know where to go when they have a question. All of this makes the process far more manageable for everyone, allowing everyone to stay focused on his or her job.

Clear Definition of Roles

Also related to uncertainty, when a leadership transition is announced, the first thing people usually ask is “How will it affect my job?” They’ll want to know if they are going to keep the same job, lose it, or simply take on a new role. And if there are new jobs to be created, they may also be wondering if these are opportunities they may want to pursue.

So, one of the first things you should do is spend some time outlining how the organization is going to look post-transition. Identify skills gaps and overlaps, and use this information to help you map out a new structure. It might be a good idea to work with a professional employer organization to do this, especially if you think you’ll need to recruit new people. It will help you design roles that will attract the most interest from the job market and that will also optimize your business’ efficiency.

Doing this right from the beginning will help people come to grips with the transition more quickly and more easily. They’ll be able to see how the change is going to affect both them and the company, and this will make it easier for them to prepare for what’s to come. Many companies wait until after the transition to begin doing this stuff, but this just makes everything messier and more confusing.


Transitions can be hard for some people because they often feel as though they’re being imposed from the top. This creates resentment and frustration, which can most certainly affect the workplace environment and employee productivity.

A good way to make this situation better is to involve employees as much as you can. For example, if you think it’s going to be best to restructure things, it might be a good idea to ask people their opinions on how this could be done. You, of course, don’t need to adopt every suggestion, but it’s a gesture of good faith that will go a long way toward helping ease people’s fear about the change they’re soon to undergo.

Another option is to create a transition team. This group would work as a liaison between employees and management so that people can voice concerns and offer their opinions in an organized and coherent way. Making people feel a part of the transition is going to ease the anxiety of the situation, which will open people up to the idea of the transition and make it easier for them to stay motivated.

Weathering the Storm

No matter how much you do to prepare, there will always be a period of chaos shortly after you announce a major transition. But if you design a plan for how to keep people motivated, you’ll find the dust will quickly settle and people will adapt, turning an abrupt change into a gradual and efficient transition.

Jock Purtle is the founder of Digital Exits, an online brokerage service specializing in the buying/selling and appraisal of online businesses. He has been an Internet entrepreneur since he started his first website when he was 19, and since then, he has gone on to start, run, and sell businesses in the educational services and cybersecurity markets. When he’s not working with fellow entrepreneurs to broker deals for their companies, he’s likely writing about his experiences to serve as a resource for others.

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