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How HR can manage leadership change

“Don’t underestimate the destabilising impact a change of leadership can have," said Ciphr's CPO

In the wake of Humza Yousaf's resignation from the role of first minister of Scotland, we asked HR leaders for their tips on how to manage leadership change.

Yousaf announced that he would resign yesterday (29 April), amid calls within Holyrood for a vote of no confidence in his leadership and the SNP government. The announcement followed mounting pressure after Yousaf's decision to end the SNP's power-sharing deal with the Scottish Green Party, the Bute House Agreement, leaving the SNP with a minority government.

Yousaf is to remain as first minister while the SNP chooses a new leader, a process that is due to end on Monday 6 May.

When managing leadership change, Samantha Manning, leadership development solutions director at management consultancy LHH, told HR magazine that HR should ensure employees feel psychologically safe.

She said: “There will inevitably be a period of disruption, and the focus on the core business strategy may be interrupted. 

“Understandably, people will be concerned about who the new leader will be, and what this will mean for the organisation and for them.

“The strength of an organisational culture can be really tested in these situations, so businesses need to invest in the relationship and dynamics of their employees to build a psychologically safe environment that will make the organisation more resilient in times of uncertainty.”

Read more: How to drive successful change

In his resignation speech, Yousaf commented that repairing the Scottish Nationalist Party’s relationships with the opposition could “only be done with someone else at the helm”.

He added: "For a minority government to be able to govern effectively and efficiently, trust is clearly fundamental.”

According to Manning, organisations that focus on strong relationships were most likely to successfully navigate leadership changes.

She continued: “In these times, teams and peer relationships are even more important because of the leadership vacuum. 

“Teams that have a sense of belonging, psychological safety and shared values are much more likely to navigate the uncertainty and not lose sight of key performance goals.’’

Read more: Why the success or failure of change is all relative

Claire Williams, chief people and operations officer for HR software provider Ciphr, suggested that HR should focus on communications, after a leadership change.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Don’t underestimate the destabilising impact that a change of leadership can have on your people and culture, as well as your organisation’s performance and reputation.

“Top of your list needs to be communications. Think logically through the order of events: who do you need to communicate the news with and when? Who will deliver the news, and how – remotely or in-person? What will the communication itself say?”

Williams added: “It’s really important that you take the time to get your remaining leadership and management team aligned on your messaging. 

“Don’t send out something as a knee-jerk reaction. Your communication should provide the necessary clarity, reassurances and FAQs at the outset.”