By Barb Ward

In 2024 approximately 4.1 million Americans will turn 65, that’s an average of 11,000 people per day according to a CBS News report. This, the largest surge of retirement-aged Americans in history, promises to wreak havoc on organizations already experiencing high turnover rates among their workforce and most notably their leaders. What’s more, these numbers only account for those who are planning in advance to retire from their jobs. The reality is that even though we are largely past the pandemic, there are residual waves still affecting the well-being of our workforces… and often overlooked are the effects on the leaders who are responsible for them. In fact, according to a report published by Hogan up to 70% of C-suite leaders are so overwhelmed they are considering leaving their jobs. 

Here’s what we know: when leaders leave or retire from organizations, it can leave a devastating hole in the fabric of the organization and its culture. Even in the best-case scenarios where the departure was thought out, planned for, and communicated well in advance, it is often impossible to foresee the effects the leader’s absence can have. When the departure is unexpected or sudden, it can be even more devastating.

All organizations go through these growing pains, and all are susceptible to the ripples caused by the pandemic. So how can organizations plan for the possibilities? While retirement is often talked about well in advance giving companies time to implement their succession plans, resignation from a job can be more sudden, with less time to plan and communicate the change. This makes it even more important to have contingency plans in place. 

The following are some guidelines for successfully navigating leaders who are retiring or making plans for potential resignation situations.

Retirement Planning

Planning for a leader’s retirement is a crucial process for organizations to ensure a smooth transition and continuity of operations. The specific steps and strategies may vary based on the organization’s size, structure, and industry, but here are some common elements in the planning process:

Communication and Transparency:

  • Communicate the retirement plans well in advance to relevant stakeholders.
  • Maintain transparency throughout the process to reduce uncertainty and anxiety.
  • Clearly outline the timeline and steps involved in the leadership transition.
  • Keep employees informed and engaged throughout the transition process.
  • Address any concerns or uncertainties among the workforce.
  • Foster a positive organizational culture that supports change and adaptation.

Succession Planning:

  • Identify potential internal candidates for the leadership position.
  • Develop a talent pool with the necessary skills and experience.
  • Provide training and development opportunities for potential successors.

Leadership Development:

  • Invest in ongoing leadership development programs to groom potential successors.
  • Ensure that key leaders have a mentorship or coaching system in place.
  • Create opportunities for leadership team members to gain exposure to different aspects of the organization.

Search for External Candidates:

  • In some cases, organizations may need to explore external candidates for the leadership role.
  • Engage executive search firms or use other methods to identify qualified external candidates.
  • Conduct thorough interviews and assessments to ensure a good fit for the organization.

Knowledge Transfer:

  • Encourage knowledge sharing and documentation of critical information.
  • Identify and document key processes, contacts, and decision-making frameworks.
  • Facilitate mentorship and knowledge transfer sessions between the retiring leader and their successor.

Legal and Regulatory Compliance:

  • Ensure compliance with employment laws and regulations related to leadership transitions.
  • Review employment contracts, non-compete agreements, and any other legal considerations.
  • Plan for a smooth transfer of responsibilities without legal complications.

Financial Planning:

  • Assess the financial implications of retirement, including benefits and pension plans.
  • Plan for any financial arrangements or incentives for the retiring leader.
  • Consider the budgetary impact of the leadership transition process.

Post-Retirement Support:

  • Provide post-retirement support to the outgoing leader, such as consulting roles or advisory positions.
  • Facilitate a smooth handover of relationships, networks, and industry connections.

All of these steps can enhance an organization’s preparedness for a leader’s retirement and facilitate a seamless transition. Regularly revisiting and updating these plans is also essential to adapt to changing organizational needs and dynamics.

We recently had a conversation with Alex Cousins, a Financial Advisor with Edward Jones. Alex experienced a planned change of leadership in a previous workplace, and she gave us a valuable perspective and a few thoughts you may want to consider as you put strategies in place for your organization.

Question: As an organizational effectiveness company, we are often asked to help companies prepare for the change that occurs when leaders leave the organization or retire. This is often an important process, especially if that leader has been there for a long time, is very well-liked, or there are multiple people of retirement age in the organization. Could you share anything that comes to mind for you as you think about the organizational transition you went through?

Answer: In my current work, we continuously ask ourselves, how can we help someone’s legacy live forever? We work with individuals closely and ask questions from the heart – trying to understand what they are working toward, why they want to be prosperous, and how their story can impact their community. If organizations could adopt an insatiable curiosity about their leaders, it would highlight the key principles that have allowed them to find success and build culture through their work. 

I experienced a change of leadership at one of the organizations I worked for and I can remember being torn apart when the founders officially left the building. I didn’t realize their physical presence was what made me feel grounded there. I thought:

  • Could the final months of employment be more drawn out so there is a longer adjustment period?  
  • Could there be less workload but more connection?
  • If circumstances don’t allow that, how can you be creative about honoring their story?  
  • Can they come back twice a year to speak?  
  • Could they maintain a consulting role that allows them to stay connected?


Resignation Planning

When a leader resigns suddenly, organizations need to act swiftly and strategically to adapt to the change. Ideally, organizations have prepared ahead of time for this potential situation, so they have an action plan in place. In the event you do not have a plan in place, the following are some considerations that can be planned out ahead of time so swift and well-thought-out action can occur:

Assess Immediate Needs:

  • Evaluate critical projects, tasks, and ongoing initiatives.
  • Ensure that essential functions are not disrupted and assign responsibilities accordingly.

Communicate with Employees:

  • Have templates for appropriate announcements written that can be easily adapted to communicate the departure to employees as soon as possible.
  • Be transparent about the reasons for the resignation, as appropriate.
  • Foster an open environment for communication and feedback.
  • Address employee concerns and uncertainties promptly.
  • Provide reassurance about the organization’s commitment to stability and success.
  • Provide support mechanisms, such as counseling or resources to manage stress.

Communicate with Key Stakeholders and External Audiences:

  • A communication plan for external stakeholders, including partners, investors, clients, suppliers, and the media should be in place.
  • Adapt pre-written announcements to communicate the departure to external audiences as soon as possible.
  • Frame the narrative positively, emphasizing the organization’s resilience and commitment to moving forward.
  • If the resignation is part of a crisis, engage in crisis management strategies.
  • Communicate effectively to mitigate reputational risks and restore confidence among employees, stakeholders, and the community.
  • Provide assurances of continuity and share the organization’s plans for the transition.

Interim Leadership:

When your workplace dynamics shift, you must react swiftly. Hiring interim executives is a strategy that can allow you to navigate transitional periods, crises, business surges, or other changes effectively by leveraging the expertise of temporary leaders. However, to be successful, expectations have to be crystal clear from the beginning to avoid misunderstandings and disenchantment about the interim role. Here are some things to address immediately upon offering an interim position:

  • Appoint an interim leader or leadership team to manage day-to-day operations. Make sure the expectations and terms of the position are clear. Many times individuals who accept an interim role assume they will be the lead candidate for the permanent position. If this is not the intention, it must be clearly stated upfront. 
  • Set an estimated timeframe for the permanent replacement. Frequent communication about the permanent replacement should be a priority.

Conduct a Rapid Talent Search:

  • Initiate a fast-track search for a permanent replacement. Ideally, organizations have been developing individuals within the organization who show potential to step up into leadership positions. A talent search should begin internally if appropriate talent is available to assume a leadership role. 
  • If necessary, leverage internal and external networks, executive search firms, and other resources to identify potential candidates.
  • Balance speed with thorough vetting to ensure the right fit for the organization.

Activate Succession Plans:

Succession planning is a focused process for keeping talent in the pipeline. It is generally a 12- to 36-month process of preparation, not pre-selection.

  • If the organization has existing succession plans, activate them promptly.
  • Identify and tap into internal talent that can temporarily or permanently assume key leadership responsibilities.

Evaluate and Improve Processes:

  • Conduct a post-mortem analysis of the circumstances surrounding the sudden resignation.
  • Identify any weaknesses in leadership development, communication, or organizational processes.
  • Implement improvements to prevent similar situations in the future.

Legal and Regulatory Compliance:

  • Ensure compliance with employment laws and regulations.
  • Review any contractual obligations and legal considerations associated with the departure.

Provide Transition Support:

  • Support the departing leader in providing a smooth transition.
  • Facilitate knowledge transfer and ensure a handover of critical information.

Seek Professional Guidance:

  • Engage with HR consultants, legal advisors, or executive coaches for additional support and guidance.

The Bottom Line:

Adapting quickly to a sudden leadership change requires a combination of decisive action, effective communication, and strategic planning. Flexibility and agility are key in navigating the challenges and ensuring a positive outcome for the organization.

If this seems overwhelming in any aspect to you, let’s talk. At Innovative Connections, we have a team of experienced consultants and executive coaches who are adept at navigating the rapidly changing organizational environment. We would love to be part of your journey as you encounter the successes and challenges that lie ahead. For a free consultation to talk about how professional coaching services, leadership development training, strategy planning sessions, or additional human resources talent can help you or your organization, please contact us for a no-obligation, free consultation by clicking this link: Innovative Connections or calling us at 970-279-3330.

Our mission is to give voice and action to an emerging future. As a partner in your success, we would love to help you find your voice, see your vision, and imagine what the right action could be for you, your team, and your organization.