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Managing Evolving Relational Dynamics of Transitioning Executives – Part II of IV

Previously we wrote about the importance of actually preparing succession candidates to become ready to lead in future roles once they assume them. [Click here for previous post] A large and often overlooked part of succession preparation includes analyzing key relationships critical for success in the role, the value that relationship creates, and a detailed plan for effectively working together. Whether meeting for the first time or modifying existing relationships, each new appointment highlights a complex network of new relationships and risks. These new relationships and risks are as varied as the succession context they surface in. Leaders must understand the implications of these variables on the process and candidate’s success.

The graphic below identifies four key leader groups and specific variables to account for. Answers to these variables can be surfaced through the following questions:

  • In what context does the “arriving leader” enter their new role?
  • In what context is the “exiting leader” departing their previous role?
  • How does the “arriving leader’s” new direct reports, peers, and other stakeholders feel about and understand transition specifics?


Leader lg

Gaining insight about what triggered the transition and how people currently feel about it is a good start. However, the arriving leader must also gain insight about the requirements that will ensure their success in the future. These questions include:

  1. What key relationships are required for success in my new assignment?
  2. What value must be created between us?
  3. What needs to change or be established between us to ensure the transition sticks?

Relationships are the fabric of successful transitions. Yet too often HR and OD professionals underestimate the vast network of relationships required to hold it all together and instead focus too narrowly on the arriving leader. Talent professionals are perfectly positioned to guide involved leaders through a process that surfaces insight about leader groups and contextual elements as well as support the arriving leader in building necessary relationships for the future. Defining the relational implications of success and shifting the organization’s mentality from one transition—the classic “baton pass,”—to a tapestry of transitions are unfortunately, frequently overlooked.

The vast tapestry of relationships: Prioritizing relationships and clarifying the strategic value created between them

Not all relationships are created equal, in life or in business. Helping transitioning executives understand their new relational landscape in their new context will help them get traction quicker than nearly everything else that happens in their first 100 days in the role. For the purposes of this post we’ll assume that it is a double promotion. The exiting leader is being promoted to a broader, elevated role and the arriving leader is backfilling said promotion.

Entering a new role can be off balancing relationally; something further compounded by pre-existing relationships and historical interactions as is the case with internal transitions. Furthermore, working relationships can be complicated because of the role a leader is transitioning into and the role they are transitioning out of. The higher up in the organization they arrive, the wider the range of leaders who will be clamoring for their attention and thus an even greater need to prioritize certain relationships over others.

The best way to help prepare this incoming executive is by starting with the exiting executive’s analysis of their critical relationships and the strategic value created between them. In the case of an internal promotion, the exiting and entering executives could do this work together. You can’t plan for every possible relationship but there is usually a similar set of characters who should be attended to. The usual suspects are as follows.

The relationship between exiting leader and arriving leader. This is the most obvious relationship. The arriving leader needs to understand the specifics of the exiting leader’s departure as well as any specifics they must bring to the role. Here are some helpful questions to get clear on the specifics of the relational context between the arriving and exiting leaders.

  • What triggered the transition? Over what time are decision rights and other responsibilities handed off?
  • Similarly, what is known about the arriving leader? Are they an internal candidate from a different business unit or function or was the promotion directly upwards? Do they carry organizational baggage with them? Are they beloved? Feared?

The relationship(s) between the arriving leader and internal candidates not selected. Other internal candidates who were not selected for the role are often overlooked in the process, but you can be assured that they have personal feelings and beliefs about the process that will either help or hinder their ability to build deep attachment with the arriving leader.

  • How closely connected are they to the arriving leaders new role? A new reporting relationship is much different than a candidate who works in a different BU or unrelated function.
  • Was it a long, drawn out horse race for the role or was that individual the only one remotely available to backfill it? Were any of the other candidates informally “promised the role” or had they been waiting for it to open?

The relationship(s) between the arriving leader and their inherited team. The inherited team is one of the arriving leader’s greatest resources, yet their ability to create meaningful attachments with the team and help them move on from the past is what will hamstring their effective use of this precious resource and end up make it a liability in their effectiveness.

  • How deep was their attachment to the exiting leader? As a superior? Personally?
  • Are they happy with the choice? Ambivalent? Or unhappy with it?
  • The relationship(s) between the arriving leader and other strategy-enabling stakeholders. Peers and other stakeholders ought to be understood in terms of what the arriving leader must accomplish with regard to the business strategy. If there is a significant shift in strategy, critical peers and stakeholders will also need to shift. What standing stakeholder relationships no longer serve the elements of the strategy for which the incoming leader is responsible? What’s the plan to explicitly transition and redefine those relationships?
  • What relationships need to be strengthened? What relationships need to “start-up” to account for any shifts in the strategy? What’s the plan to do so?

It’s these contextual and relational nuances that have huge implications for all leaders’ success once the arriving leader is in role. Working the implications of the answers to the above questions into a thoughtful, coherent plan is a must do. The challenge is that success presumes a level of coming together and working with real people who have real emotions and most likely strong opinions about the transition and how it’s unfolding. It’s never just about the new candidate taking the job. The plan must include helping get these relationships off to a productive start. It’s the mismanaged or unmanaged relationships that create transition obstacles. By contrast, well-choreographed relational transitions are the foundation to executing effective succession decisions—take them seriously and you will see unimaginable benefits. Even when transitions are optimally designed, lead people can wind up behaving in weird ineffective ways. In the next post we’ll highlight three patterns of ineffective relational dynamics that frequently find their way into the process.

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CarucciRon Carucci, Managing Partner of Navalent, is a seasoned consultant with more than 25 years of experience working with CEOs and senior executives of organizations ranging from Fortune 50 to start-up in pursuit of transformational change. His consulting has taken him to more than 20 different countries on 4 continents. He has consulted to some of the world’s most influential CEOs and executives on issues ranging from strategy to organization to leadership. You can learn more about Ron and his work at:


EppersonJosh Epperson has spent the last decade at Navalent helping leaders and organizations overcome their most difficult business challenges. He works with a variety of organizations and leaders ranging from community NGOs, privately-owned family businesses, and multi-billion dollar public corporations. Transformation of these leaders and organizations usually includes strategy articulation, organization architecture, leadership capability or a combination therein. You can learn more about Josh and his work at:

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Ron Carucci and Josh Epperson
Ron Carucci and Josh Epperson
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