When a community is facing a transition in leadership, how does an executive’s exit affect the community at large?

By Michelle Seitzer

Replacing a senior living CEO can be a complex and costly process—and the reason why planning ahead is essential for community stability and the new leader’s success. But how does an executive’s exit affect the community at large? The residents, the staff, vendors, and volunteers, family members and friends?

Listen to the People

When a community is facing a transition in leadership, the buzz around the break rooms, halls, and water coolers is telling:

  • Are employees excited about the change?

  • Do they trust the leader who is leaving to find a comparable person to fill his/her shoes?

  • What are the residents’ primary concerns about a management shift?

  • Will the new executive be visible, hands-on, and approachable?

  • Will the new executive be constantly on the road for corporate or stuck behind the desk all day?

  • Will vendors lose their contracts when the new leader is in place?

  • Will there be a new leadership team?

While some of the buzz may be positive, the ripple effect of worry, uncertainty, and questions can quickly erode morale and create a culture of distrust. What can you do to disrupt that ripple effect?

Let Them Talk About It

Things happen, and executives must come and go for any number of reasons. Sometimes, change is energizing to a community. Sometimes, it is devastating. But until the outcome of a leadership change is known, it’s natural for affected parties to worry.

Here’s how to ease your community through a pending leadership transition:

  1. Provide opportunities for dialogue: Set up town hall meetings for residents and staff. Ask department heads to host lunch & learn sessions or stand-up meetings to ask questions and talk through potential changes.

  2. Show them you value their opinion: Request feedback from staff and residents through online or written surveys, or comment card boxes positioned throughout the community.

  3. Be honest: Whenever possible, be upfront about decisions being made and explain the succession planning process. Complete transparency is not necessary, but the more you can share, the less they can speculate.

  4. Follow up: Use community communications venues (in-house newsletters, bulletin boards, etc.) to alert staff and residents of updates in the process. Be consistent in providing these updates.

Prepare for Departure(s)

Staff turnover may also follow a leadership change announcement: Department heads, unsure of whether they could work for someone new after being loyal to their current leader, may seek an exit. Frontline employees loyal to a department head may also want to leave—not necessarily because the CEO is leaving, but because their department head is.

And when there’s turnover, residents and family members feel the strain. “Mom moved here because she really liked the staff, and now they’re all leaving. Will the new people be just as good?” Trust takes time to build, but even the prospect of change can unravel that trust.

As you assess the impact of change on your staff and residents, consider the family members too:

  1. Host an informational forum for family members.

  2. Find opportunities to communicate—be it through formal mailings or informal conversations in the hallway—about the coming changes and the ways you’re handling them.

  3. Make sure your department heads are speaking positively and appropriately about the transition to their employees, as this messaging will likely trickle down to the family members.

A successful succession plan benefits everyone involved. Clear and consistent communication and transparency will help keep rumors at bay, foster a smoother transition for the new leader, and establish the kind of positive culture you’d like to be remembered for.