Digital Marketing Blog

Seven Steps for Leadership Transitions

Andrew McLellan
September 9, 2022

Leadership changes within an agency (or anywhere) can be complex. If someone steps down from a managerial position, your two choices are to 1) promote internally or 2) hire externally. Both have issues; the internal person will have more working knowledge of the organization but might cause resentment with peers or bring the same ideas as the last person. By hiring externally, you can get a fresh perspective on your business, but then the team internally will potentially feel like there is no growth opportunity. It's a hard decision and will always vary by circumstance. With that in mind, here are the steps to take whenever a leader gives notice:


  1. Communicate the entire way
  2. Conduct the search with both internal and external candidates
  3. Survey the existing team, as well as key stakeholders
  4. Document existing job duties and information for the new hire
  5. Make a decision, and make it quick (but don't hurry)
  6. Clearly articulate the direction you've decided
  7. Train the new hire based on the surveys and notes from the previous manager

1) Communicate the entire way

While communication could be more of a prerequisite, I like the number seven, so I'm sticking it here at one. The most important action that most people do not follow through on is not communicating every step of the way. Even if there is no update, the team likes to hear where things are. Who their next manager is will be an important transition, and you'll lose productivity to people making up in their heads what is happening if you don't keep them apprised of what is next.

2) Conduct the search with both internal and external candidates

Even if you think you are more likely to hire internally or externally, it's a good use of time and effort to post the job in all areas. Looking internally and externally keeps things fair for current employees, and you never know who might be interested. It also allows you to address anyone within the company who wants to be considered but isn't a good fit. Knowing who is interested allows for a coaching conversation around what they need to accomplish to apply again in the future.

3) Survey the existing team, as well as key stakeholders

Making everyone feel part of the process can help in easing the transition. Meeting with the team and any other key stakeholders to find out what should remain the same and what might benefit from change will go a long way in narrowing down your search. It is even better if you hire a third-party consultant to conduct these surveys, as it can show the team that you value their opinions and want to ensure they have a safe space to express them.

4) Document existing job duties and information for the new hire

Documenting existing job duties can start with the person in the role. Still, chances are they are beginning to focus on their next opportunity and will not be reliable here. Having a bridge between the last person and the new person in the role is crucial to not losing any time. Not having documentation can also cause problems as there is rarely enough time after the person gives the notice to hire and then has that person train. Addressing these issues can be another area where a "bridge" or interim person could help mitigate the problems of no overlap.

5) Make a decision, and make it quick (but don't hurry)

You want to make the right choice for the team, but sometimes taking too long can cause issues. Being decisive here will show confidence in the new person you hire and limit the amount of downtime and anxiety within the team. It's important to make sure everyone is involved, but a speedy decision at the end of the day will help everyone move on.

6) Clearly articulate the direction you've decided

This part is critical; ensure everyone understands why you selected the new leader and what they will bring to the table. If you did not select internal employees that applied, ensure they understand why and that you value their contributions and give a clear path to achieve the next step in their career. It's also important to keep checking in with the team for weeks or even months after the transition; this way, they feel cared about and appreciated.

7) Train the new hire based on the surveys and notes from the previous manager

Having a bridge period with the last person in the role is ideal, but this rarely happens. Ensuring that the person overseeing the team or a third party is helping onboard and train the consultant will result in significantly less downtime and lost hours to re-learning the wheel. Helping someone get up to speed as quickly as possible is the best way to ensure the team stays productive and is no wasted time with the new hire.

Bonus: Prep in advance with better succession planning

Ultimately, having a plan in place before someone leaves is ideal. Being proactive and having succession planning in place go a long way in speeding up the process. Even knowing the one or two people most likely to replace that person will help cut down on hiring and training time. If you're constantly looking outside for new managerial hires, take a look at your training and mentoring process. Hiring internally will help motivate and retain good employees who need the next step.

Trellis Consulting helps agencies and in-house teams by providing interim leadership and bridge training/onboarding for new hires. Having a third party manage this process can take the stress off and show the team internally that you are taking the transition seriously and care about their growth. If you feel a better hire will come from outside, it will also give the added benefit of checking any bias against internal employees and ensuring a fair shot for everyone. If you feel this would be helpful for your organization, let us know below.