How to ensure a smooth handover to your successor
Handing over the editorial reins
By Professors Graham Moon and Jamie Pearce Posted on 13 May 2015
“Make yourself available for advice if they want it, but only if they ask for it – don’t stand in the shadows trying to hang on to something you’ve decided to stop doing.” Professor Graham Moon
Handing over the editorial reins isn’t always easy, especially if the outgoing editor has many years of experience. How can you best arrange the transition, making sure that knowledge isn’t lost and ensuring continuity for authors? We hear from two Editors-in-Chief who have recently been through the experience about the challenges, and how they made a success of the change.
I don’t think any editor always gets it right,” says Professor Graham Moon, founding Editor-in-Chief of Health & Place.
He has just stepped down after 20 years at the helm and sees being an Editor-in-Chief as more of a vocational endeavor than something that can be communicated via ‘how to do it’ book learning.
“Preparation, knowledge and networks are extremely important when you’re setting up a journal,” he says. “Copy may sometimes be thin on the ground initially, but if you’re well networked you can overcome that and increase submissions.”
Now the journal is mature the issue has shifted to attracting quality papers – but good contacts remain vital. “My successor Jamie is high profile in the field and well networked; he’s the ideal person to take the journal forward.”
Professor Jamie Pearce was a member of the Health & Place Editorial Board for four years before being approached by Graham about becoming his successor. They discussed the options and decided that Jamie would begin his new role in January 2014, followed by a year of transition as co-Editors-in-Chief. This gave Graham the opportunity to share his knowledge and experience, Jamie to become acquainted with the running of the journal, and for the two to align their approaches.
“It was daunting, especially since Graham has been a big figure in the field for so many years, and led the journal successfully for so long,” comments Jamie. “But the transition year really helped. Graham was a brilliant mentor for me in taking on the role – I learnt on the job with him, and could discuss what was going well, and the things we could change in the future.”
The transition approach
Much of what they discussed during the handover was mechanical and process-driven – the logistics of working with Elsevier’s technical staff, who to talk to about different issues and how to find information. The two editors are at opposite ends of the UK – Edinburgh and Southampton – and in other cases, outgoing and incoming editors may well be in different countries. How did the transition work at a distance?
“We spoke via email and on the phone a lot, and saw each other in person a few times,” says Jamie. “When I first took on the job in early spring I spent a few days in Southampton with Graham and we did a calibration process. We worked throughout the year on a week on / week off basis, alternating to see how well matched we were in terms of decision-making – what to send for review and how to respond. Luckily, we were well matched.”
Challenges of a handover
Continuity and consistency for authors is vital when changing journal leadership. In particular, Graham and Jamie wanted to make sure they were aligned in their decision-making during their co-editorship, and with 800 submissions a year they had plenty of opportunity to make decisions.
“It’s great for the journal, but you always disappoint a lot of people,” says Graham. “That’s the nature of copy flow – you can’t burden an already hard-pressed reviewer community with papers that don’t fit the journal’s requirements, so desk rejection is important.”
“I spent the year learning how to recognize the elements of a strong paper,” recalls Jamie. “As an editor you become more focused on the remit of the journal, rather than on your personal perspective – a paper might be interesting but not right for us. It’s important that I continue to make good decisions – it’s part of the service we give to authors.”
Advice for transitioning editors
“Definitely work alongside the new Editor-in-Chief for at least a year,” says Graham. “Be very clear about what you’ve done and why, and communicate that to them.”
“First and foremost, learn from the people who are already involved,” says Jamie. “Spending the first year working with Graham and the Associate Editors, working out how and why Health & Place has been so successful for so long was really valuable.”
For Jamie, learning the process of seeing a paper through to publication, as well as having the opportunity to be proactive and think about how the journal itself can start to set a research agenda, provided a great foundation for the future. “It put me in a better position to make decisions about the future direction of the journal,” he says.
As much as the incoming editor has to learn, the outgoing editor also needs to adjust to a new situation. This can be difficult, especially after nurturing a journal from inception to success. “Let go, and recognize that someone else will be running the journal now,” advises Graham. “Make yourself available for advice if they want it, but only if they ask for it – don’t stand in the shadows trying to hang on to something you’ve decided to stop doing. This can be sad, but just stop doing it.”
It’s also important to keep communication open for issues that may arise, and most importantly for strategic advice. Graham remains on the Editorial Board as a strategic advisor. “I’ve already called him a couple of times for his advice about particular issues,” says Jamie. And Graham will also be called on to do something he hasn’t done for the journal in a long time; review papers.
Top tips for handing over
- Have a handover period, if possible – working side-by-side allows you to calibrate
- Arrange meetings – talk regularly and address issues that arise
- Focus on continuity – decision-making needs to be aligned
- Explain protocol – share information on processes, and why things are done that way
- Share Elsevier’s address book – who to contact with different issues
- Enable change – journal leadership is not one-size-fits-all
- Let go (outgoing editor) – acknowledge that there’s a new editor
- Take control (new editor) – don’t be afraid to lead the journal in a new direction
Graham Moon founded Health & Place and was its Editor-in-Chief for 20 years. He is Professor of Health Geography at the University of Southampton, is committed to interdisciplinary research and has worked across geography, sociology and epidemiology. He has held visiting Chairs in New Zealand and France. His research interests, funded by the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) and health agencies, focus on place effects on health-related behaviors, particularly the geography of smoking and tobacco; the estimation of small area health indicators; and the afterlives of the psychiatric asylum. He was central to the development of the new geography of health and the introduction of multilevel modelling to health research. Graham is a fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences and an Honorary Member of The UK’s Faculty of Public Health.
Jamie Pearce is Professor of Health Geography at The University of Edinburgh where he is Head of the Institute of Geography and Lived Environment, and co-Director of the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health (CRESH). Previously he was Director of the GeoHealth Laboratory at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, where he remains Adjunct Professor. Working at the intersection of human geography, public health and epidemiology, he has particular interests in health-related behaviors (e.g. smoking, nutrition, physical activity and obesity), environmental justice and health (e.g. air pollution and multiple environmental deprivation), and macro-level health-related processes (e.g. social and economic inequality).