CEO Succession: Four Tips to Ensuring Success

CEO succession is not an event, but a series of actions orchestrated over the course of several years. The more one anticipates the nuances and implications of early actions and those that follow, the more successful the eventual selection and transition of the next CEO. Proactively expanding the focus of one’s lens throughout the process can reveal the more nuanced opportunities that might otherwise be overlooked. With this as a backdrop, here are four tips on how to make this go as successfully as possible.

1) The board should engage early and often. 

‘Tis That Time of Year: C-Suite Transitions

This holiday season includes an unusual number of C-suite leadership transitions. Some have been triggered by company performance or executive behavior. Others are due to shifts in the business model, planned succession moves, or the unexpected departure of individual senior executives. Without question, these changes can help poise an organization for higher levels of performance. However, they can also create distractions, anxiety, and unintended consequences.

Quick Start Instructions for the First-Time CEO

Assuming the top leadership role in an organization is a life-changing experience filled with emotions ranging from exhilaration to a feeling of isolation. Whether you are a founder who just launched your own company, a Fortune 100 CEO, or somewhere in between, this can be a daunting experience. Here are some quick tips as you embark on this journey.

Invest heavily in your team

Is Your Succession Planning Process “All Ornaments and No Tree?”

I work with a CHRO who once described her company’s succession planning process as “all ornaments and no tree.” On the surface, her feedback might seem somewhat surprising. After all, the company conducted biannual talent management roundtables during which its top 200 or so leaders (and their viability as possible successors for enterprise-critical roles) were discussed in detail.

A Breakthrough Alternative to Sourcing Talent

For more than sixty years, the primary resource for companies seeking outside executive talent to fill key roles has been search firms. The search firm business model has been remarkably resistant to change, with both retained and contingency searches costing as much as a third of first year compensation for the hired executive. While these firms offer a valuable service to their clients, there are some significant drawbacks to traditional search beyond the extraordinary fees.

A Different Look at Managing CEO Performance

According to best practices in board evaluations, you should hire an external expert to conduct the process at least every two to three years. This helps uncover subtle issues and opportunities, increase candor, and reduce the risk of a check-the-box approach by introducing different questions, process, and perspective. We are starting to see a similar trend in managing CEO performance.

CEO Selection: Insiders Versus Outsiders

I’ve been involved in several situations lately where a sudden CEO departure has left a gaping hole. At times, it is due to a performance or results issue. But there are also a number of times where unanticipated health or life circumstances and issues have caused abrupt changes. There is no name taped to the bottom of a drawer that suggests who the outgoing CEO thinks is ready, and the board has not fully addressed the issue of succession planning. The obvious solution is for the board and leadership to always have an ongoing dialogue about who is being developed for the top job.


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