Many would agree that your CEO is the most important person in your business. They’re the face of your company, they make all the important decisions, and they act as a role-model for your employees. That’s why, when they leave, it can be a real make-or-break moment for your enterprise. It’s always sad to lose a member of your team, but when it’s your Chief Executive, dealing with their leaving isn’t just about their role –– it’s about keeping your business together. As 40% more CEOs depart from their positions compared with previous years, it’s a question that has to be considered.
“For everyone involved, from the executive to the board of directors, to employees and key stakeholders, the appointment is merely a moment in a multidimensional transition,” explains expert CEO search firm Egon Zehnder. “It is important to deliver a comprehensive and effective CEO transition, succession, and onboarding protocol”. But how can you do this? What opportunities does this reshuffling of leadership bring? And what should you do to ensure a smooth transition? Let’s find out.
1. Create an action plan
Let’s start with the bad news: it’s likely the changeover period will disrupt the company in one way or another. However, you can reduce this impact with a well-thought-out action plan. It is advised to approach a CEO search consultancy at this point, or if you already have candidates in mind, jot out a proposal for moving forward with interviews and hiring. This roadmap also applies to the period after a new CEO was selected, and should include a timeline that draws out the duration of the handover process, as well as how long it will take for them to settle in. Share this plan with your team and let them know of any managerial changes –– temporary or permanent –– that may happen while the transition is ongoing.
2. Lead by example
You’re not called the leadership for no reason –– you’re the people in charge of driving the organisation forward. If anyone shouts fire in a crowded theatre they will cause a panic, but a person of authority doing so is a surefire way to derail a business to a state of hysteria. Of course, you’re allowed to have your doubts and worries. But make sure you’re always being positive about the changes, conscious that the way you approach this is going to impact how those transformations are perceived by employees. If the staff sees you are motivated, excited and looking forward to the way ahead, they’ll be more likely to believe it themselves.
3. Manage communications
That being said, maintaining positivity isn’t about lying. It’s about an attitude that allows the truth to be viewed with hope rather than with an air of doom or confusion. Promoting open communication between your employees and the leadership team is crucial to alleviate any concerns they may have. Transparency is key, don’t let them learn that their Chief Executive is leaving from the News. Be swift with your response, inform your workers what the plan is, and nip any disorientation in the bud. It’s also essential that you allow your staff to ask any questions they may have so you can mitigate any of their worries.
4. Change the conversation
In an evolving world, it’s important to take a step back and review what’s been done. In your hectic life within the organisation, it is sometimes difficult to do this, or at least easy to forget the need to. Although a CEO leaving is not good, there’s always a silver lining –– and in this case, it can be making structural and cultural alterations. Engage staff in transparent conversations, ask for feedback –– even if it is anonymous –– and use those insights to influence and lead your CEO search. Your new leader can be the epitome of the culture you want to create, based on what your employees feel is missing. This is an opportunity to reflect.
5. Prepare for onboarding
Hiring a new Chief Executive does not end with a signed contract. You’re likely to have a lengthy onboarding process –– around 100 days. To ensure this transition is as quick and efficient as possible, preparing for handover is crucial. Assemble an orientation pack that will include essential information, introductory meetings and strategic priorities. Creating a list of roles and responsibilities can be a useful exercise, both to refresh your leadership team’s head and provide a basis for the Executive’s position. Most new leaders fail because of a mismatch of expectations or style and the needs of the business, so onboarding a Chief Executive needs to be a priority. You should also confirm that your plan deals with explaining the process and announcing the new CEO to your teams.
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