Managing the Transitioning to Your Successor

transitioning to your successor
Transitioning to your successor

Today, we observe a phenomenon that makes the United States unique and special. We will observe the peaceful transition of power of the United States presidency. Regardless of your politics or whether your candidate won, this is a process that has gone smoothly for over 200 years.

The outgoing president works closely with the newly elected president to facilitate a smooth transition of power. I’ve always been impressed by this. Even when the successor defeated the incumbent (which has happened ten times in our history), the two work together in the greater interest of the nation.

Although it rarely matches the levels of significance and national security, I’ve seen this occur in consulting environments many times. A team member on a project is to be replaced by another. When this happens, the incumbent team member is expected to transition his or her work to the incoming person.

Transitioning to your successor

One of the great things about consulting is the variety. Consultants thrive on moving from project to project. Some even like to have a variety of clients. After some time on a project, they are ready to move on. This can be a pleasant process in these situations. The incoming consultant is excited about the new assignment. The outgoing one is just as excited to start something new.

Sometimes, a client will change contracts with their preferred vendors, needing to transition knowledge from one firm’s consultants to another. This can be based on cost savings or an effort to consolidate work to fewer firms.

A transition like this is comparable to an incumbent president losing the race, required to transition to his opponent. While the outgoing firm may resent being replaced, they must do the professional thing. They need to provide the knowledge transfer necessary to make their replacement successful.

This should not be confused with the story in 2016 regarding Disney employees training replacement workers. That was about permanent employees losing their jobs because cheaper consultants were replacing them. A consultant-for-consultant swap is much more common and more acceptable. Consultants expect to be temporary and to move on to another temporary assignment.

Interviewing your replacement

I’ve been in the situation where, as part of my transition off of a project, I was to interview candidates to take my position. On one hand, that is an almost ideal person to do the interviewing. No one knows the position like the incumbent.

There could be a potential conflict of interest, even if the consultant is leaving willingly. He could fear a newcomer showing him up. He could focus on hiring someone less qualified to make his previous work appear better in comparison.

But like the incumbent president focusing on a smooth transition of power, a consultant needs to think of the client and their project. Sabotaging the project, no matter how subtle, will tarnish the reputation of the consultant and his firm.

Handing off the work

Once the new consultant has been identified and brought in for the transition, it can be awkward. The replacement may feel uncomfortable taking the place of the outgoing guy. The new consultant may be present when people say their goodbyes and show their disappointment to see the old guy go.

It is up to the outgoing consultant, regardless of the purpose of the staffing change, to make the process go smoothly. All documentation should be shared and authorized access provided to the new consultant.

Key stakeholders should be introduced in person, if that is possible. Contact information should be shared and background on each individual’s role and responsibilities. The ultimate goal should be that your replacement is never heard saying, “My predecessor never mentioned anything about that.”

It’s just how it works in consulting

Some people may find it bad form to require someone to train their replacement. The Disney scenario is extreme because permanent employees had to transition to their replacements before their firing took place. Because of the temporary nature of consulting, transitioning to your successor is a fairly common occurrence. It may create uncertainty for the outgoing consultant, but it’s just the way consulting works.

Have you ever been replaced by another consultant?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of Xura at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

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