How to Hand Over

How to Hand Your Role Over to a Successor

By Crispin Blackall

It is one of those tasks that can really make a difference in how people see you, done well it has potential to make a lasting impression on your personal brand for the successor, for the staff and for the former manager.  

So how do you focus on getting it right and not getting it wrong!

Whether you have identified a successor and grooming them to replace you.  Or you have been promoted in the business, potentially you are leaving the company for a new opportunity, maybe you are retiring or even being made redundant, this is how you will be remembered by those who stay (and these people may turn out be your referees in the future), so protect your personal brand and do a good job at the hand over.

The cost of poor leadership transition is potentially significant, a poor transition can lead to 20% less engagement, 15% lower performance, 13% greater attrition and teams are up to 90% less likely to meet 3 year performance goals.

(Corporate Finance: The cost of poor leadership transitions, Bharucha & Dial, CEB Global, 2013)

According to McKinsey nearly half of leadership transitions fail.  

“Studies show that two years after executive transitions, anywhere between 27 and 46 percent of them are regarded as failures or disappointments. Leaders rank organizational politics as the main challenge: 68 percent of transitions founder on issues related to politics, culture, and people, and 67 percent of leaders wish they had moved faster to change the culture. These matters aren’t problems only for leaders who come in from the outside: 79 percent of external and 69 percent of internal hires report that implementing culture change is difficult. Bear in mind that these are senior leaders who demonstrated success and showed intelligence, initiative, and results in their previous roles.”

(Successfully Transitioning To New Leadership Roles, Keller & Meaney, McKinsey 2018)

Successor’s Dilema

Dan Ciampa and Michael D. Watkins write about the ‘Successor’s Dilema’ in a 1999 HBR article, they describe how a senior  talent is hired in to be a successor for a CEO and at first they do very well, but as time goes on the successor is being blocked by the CEO and other key members of the Senior Leadership Team.  The reason, the CEO is having trouble letting go of the job and not ready to give up control.  

“The successor’s hands are tied. If he pushes too hard, he alienates the CEO; if he doesn’t push hard enough, his performance won’t warrant a promotion to the top spot.”

(The Successor’s Dilemma, Ciampa & Watkins, HBR 1999)

Document How Things Work

Start planning for your transition by documenting as much as possible about what you do in your job and why you do it. Make it easy and clear to follow, if your successor is coming from outside your company, there is likely to be a lot of process and jargon that will be new to them.   You want them to understand why decisions were made, if that decision is still relevant or should be reconsidered, where opportunities for improvement are and where the organisational land mines exist.

A few to key areas to ensure you include in your hand over document are:

  1. Strategy – Capture the decisions made, 
  2. Structure – Organisation charts
  3. Process – All relevant processes including the organisational cadence (the timings and dates for when big decisions need to be made or announced).  
  4. People – Ideally a workforce plan that has the details about staff demographics and includes performance ratings and relevant commentary that will help the new leader understand team dynamics, planned changes, training, recruitment, workforce locations.
  5. Stakeholders – list out all key stakeholders and the associated organisation politics. 
  6. Finance – Ideally a Business Plan that includes – Budgets, Investments, KPI’s and other performance targets.
  7. Work – Program of Work and the work plan for the financial year.

Prepare the Team For the Transition

You need to be able to brief the team confidently about why the new leader is a great choice and why they will do well under that person’s leadership.  Staff members in your old team may be very loyal and potentially see you leaving as abandoning them and impacting their own career aspirations. So communicate frequently leading up to the transition, introduce the new leader early and get them to join regular meetings to understand the organisational cadence, how meetings are held, how information is shared across both formal and informal networks.

Help the Successor Build a Network with the Relevant Stakeholders

In his 2009 article on succession planning – Marshall Goldsmith suggests that you should involve the key stakeholders in the hand over process so that they have some buy-in to the leader in particular he states:  “What got you here, won’t get you there”

They will need the support of key stakeholders if the “succession” is going to be a success. 

Your perceptions may completely miss the important input of stakeholders who may be better positioned to point out things that are not in your area of expertise. 

Your successor will learn much more if they get input from you and key stakeholders. Learning from multiple sources is often far more effective than learning from one person. 

Stakeholders who help your successor become psychologically involved in her success and thus are more likely to want to see them succeed.

(Preparing Your Successor For Success, Goldsmith, HBR, 2009)

Start Your Planning the Transition Well Before its Time to Go

Effective transition starts with having a team that is already strong autonomous, all of us are replaceable and planning your leadership that one day you will be replaced will empower both you and the team to do a better job when that day comes.  Karin Hurt & David Dye in their new book ‘Courageous Cultures’ write:

Your successor will have the greatest chance of success if the team doesn’t immediately need them to survive the day-to-day.  Give your team opportunities to work together—without you—so they learn to rely on, and leverage, one another’s strengths.” 

(Courageous Culture, Hurt & Dye 2020).

Invest Enough Time in Briefing

Make sure that you allocate plenty of time to explain to the new leader about all aspects of the job they might not have understood at the interview.

Its a case of WHAT, HOW, WHO, WITH AND WHY

  • WHAT – Understanding the detail of the function and the role, current performance and the success criteria for the team.
  • HOW – The process that get stuff done, including where the processes are broken and challenges or opportunities for improvement exist
  • WHO – The team, the stars and the weaker performers, current coaching and development strategies, performance ratings and history.  
  • WITH – The stakeholders – ensuring the stakeholders are aligned and the associated company politics are all understood.  Explain the existing working rhythm between you and the stakeholders
  • WHY – Understanding of the organisational culture, what makes everyone tick, from values to vision, the underlying motivation and social contract between the team.


Before you finish up its time to celebrate, to thank those in your former team and for them to thank you for your leadership and support. This is an important step to symbolically make the transition clear for all that the new leader is now in place.

Get Out Of The Way

Once the hand over is done the documents are complete and the introductions are all made, get out of the way.  Now you need to fade into the background and allow the new leader to step in and take control.

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