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Posts Tagged ‘Succession Plan’

Boards of Directors have a difficult, but critically important job to do with CEO succession planning.  If a Board selects the right person to succeed a departing CEO, shareholders, employees and regulators will be happy with the results.  On the other hand, a failure with CEO succession can bring about the failure of the enterprise.  If it is not THE most important thing a Board does, it is very close.

I am often asked whether a retiring CEO should be on the Search Committee.  There are times when the answer is an obvious “no.”  However, there are situations wherein the Board feels more comfortable with their role if they have a long-term, successful CEO heavily involved in the process.  My 35 years of participation in these processes has taught me that no two companies are exactly alike, so there is no right or wrong answer to the question.  To me the ideal is for both the CEO and the Board to have important, but different well-defined roles in the process.

The most productive role for a CEO in succession planning starts the day they become CEO.  From the beginning, a CEO should start preparing their potential internal successors by assessing strengths and weaknesses, getting them training, development and coaching as needed while exposing them to the Board.  The CEO should be sure the Board understands the efforts being made to develop successors internally and frequently share candid assessments with the Board.  If this work is done properly, the Board should have a good idea of their “bench strength” in case of an emergency and when it is time for the CEO to retire.

Roles Fork

CEO and Board work together until decision time

The role of the Board (usually with the help of a Search Committee) is to select the best candidate from inside or outside the company.  If the departing CEO has done his/her job, the internal candidates should be strong contenders, given their intimate knowledge of the company and its culture.  Nonetheless, today, most Boards feel like it is their fiduciary duty to look outside the company as well as inside.  So, most often the Board or Committee will have some good internal and external choices.  When it comes time to make a choice, a long-term, successful CEO should be available to the Board, but should take a passive role except in extenuating circumstances.

The departing CEO will justifiably favor the internal candidates, and any external candidates the CEO brought in early.  However, the departing CEO is most often not going to have to live with the consequences of the selection.  The CEO can still be on-call with the Board to answer technical questions about the job, but the sorting and grading of the candidates should not include the CEO unless there are strong reasons to include him or her.  Sometimes, the Board will choose a successor a year or two before the departing CEO steps down, in order to give the new CEO time to learn from the departing CEO.  In other situations, the departing CEO will be staying on in a Board role, which has its own issues that we will discuss in a future blog.

For now, suffice it to say that including a CEO in the final selection of their successor is fraught with issues and should be avoided unless there are compelling reasons to keep them involved to that extent.  If it would help your Board to have a full discussion about this issue, call me at 919-732-2716, or click here and give me your contact information.

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According to a recent WorldatWork survey of large companies, over 30% have no succession plans in place and 50% of executives say they do not have a successor for their current role.  Why?  They cited a number of reasons:

  • Not enough opportunities for employees to learn beyond their own roles (39%)
  • Process isn’t formalized (38%)
  • Not enough investment in training and development (33%)
  • Not actively involving employees or seeking their input (31%)
  • It only focuses on top executives (29%).

A lack of succession planning can lead to a lack of strategic direction and weakened financial performance, but it is hard work and Boards tend to make it a task instead of a strategy.  We will be happy to share an outline of succession planning as a strategy.  Just go here and request it:  http://matthewsyoung.com/contact.htm

The three envelopes for succession planning

The three envelopes for succession planning

Or, you could use the three envelope approach.  I learned this approach from a fellow who had just been hired as the new CEO of a large, publicly held company.  The CEO who was stepping down met with him privately and  presented him with three numbered envelopes. “Open these if you run up  against a problem you don’t think you can solve,” he said.

Well, things went along pretty smoothly, but six months later, the net interest margin  took a downturn and he was really catching a lot of heat. About at his  wits’ end, he remembered the envelopes.  He went to his drawer and took  out the first envelope.  The message read, “Blame your predecessor.”  The new CEO called a press conference and tactfully laid the blame at  the feet of the previous CEO.  Satisfied with his comments, the press – and Wall Street – responded positively, the stock price began to pick up and the  problem was soon behind him.

About a year later, the company was again experiencing a slight dip in  margins, combined with serious balance sheet problems. Having learned from his  previous experience, the CEO quickly opened the second envelope.  The  message read, “Reorganize.”  This he did, and the stock price quickly rebounded.

After several consecutive profitable quarters, the company once again fell on difficult times.  The CEO went to his office, closed the door and opened the third envelope.  The message said, “Prepare three envelopes……….”

You don’t need three envelopes if you use succession planning as a strategy.  http://matthewsyoung.com/contact.htm

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