Communications’ Role After a President’s Resignation

Do's and don'ts for announcing leadership changes


January 25, 2018

Along with most of our industry, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about presidential transitions this week. And, like a number of colleagues I’ve talked with in the last 24 hours, I’ve considered do's and don’ts for announcing changes in leadership. Below are my top-line thoughts. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well as what other points you would add to this list:

Any announcement of a resignation, retirement or departure must be paired with direction forward. A starter list of considerations:

  • Who will serve as interim leadership and how do they plan to rebuild trust?
  • Who holds the necessary political capital to announce the interim/acting leader and begin to calm audience concerns?
  • How are campus leaders dealing with the situation associated with the departure?
  • What is the role for the board and who is responsible for communicating it to them?
  • Who holds responsibility for keeping key leaders across campus, including faculty governance, up to date?
  • How can those closest and farthest from the situation be assured that the institution is in good hands? And how to you plan to realize these promises?

Remember that words and actions (or lack of words and actions) got the institution to this point—ensure that efforts, not just words, moving forward make an honest case for why faculty, staff, students, alumni and the public should trust you.

This is a time for personal contact, not just pushing out statements. Pick up the phone and conduct one-on-one outreach with those who are most heartbroken and willing to hear the future leadership direction for the institution.

Listen to feedback from your audiences even more than you push messages on behalf of the institution.

Determine the extent of relationship repair necessary with core audiences. This could be necessitated by words or actions by the president, board, community member or someone directly related to the situation.

Be honest. That includes sharing information that trends negatively with leadership. Don’t sugarcoat social media, public statements, key audience reactions or media coverage.

Finally, if you’ve drafted a strong strategy upfront, don’t change your direction based on anecdotes or limited input. You can change tactics and wording based on feedback, but hold firm on your strategy and set expectations for how much time it will take for your work, in conjunction with the institution’s new leadership, to being to rebuild trust.

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Teresa Valerio Parrot

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