"The only constant is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be." - Isaac AsimovIn an ideal world, leadership changes are pre-planned, orderly and efficient. Internal successors are identified, and groomed and when it’s time, take the torch. Steve Jobs asked Tim Cook to take over Apple. Warren Buffet has a successor in mind, he just isn’t ready to retire yet.
But as we’ve seen, whether we are talking about Yahoo, Quiznos, or newer companies like Groupon, leadership transitions can frequently be a total surprise, ill-timed and sometimes driven by crisis.
The following are a few quick tips if you are dealing with an unexpected leadership change.
Facts (not the Feelings)
Before the board members start pinging their respective networks to drum up potential candidates, kick off the process by getting it all on the table. What happened? In some situations someone has left or has been released. Sometimes it’s a little bit of both. Why weren’t they happy? Where was the disconnect? Remember, facts first, perceptions second. And for the record, feelings are important, but it’s a business so start the conversation with data.
Connect the Dots
When you have firm grasp of the must-have right and left brain skills for the role, you are now ready to build a score card. Companies that we’ve worked with have found our process of building a score card to be quite useful, and have come to appreciate how much alignment can be created.
Make a Map
Again before you start hitting the send button on emails to folks in your network, make a road map of where you’ve been (past performance), where you want to go (future goals) and all the stops along the way (milestones). Having command of this information will help you message it better to outside prospects.
A number of hiring misfires come back to this. Whenever a board member of a firm tells me a story about settling with respect to a CEO hire, it usually doesn’t have a happy ending. We typically hear that he or she struggled with some of the job responsibilities, didn’t build confidence with all the stakeholders (board members and the leadership team) and frankly were unhappy. Don’t ignore the obvious – If they haven’t hit a lot three-point shots before they probably won’t hit any on your team either.
You’ve interviewed good people, they met the other members of the search committee, and a finalist was selected - Even the industrial psychologist signed off. Once the ink is dry on their employment agreement, it’s time for onboarding. Launch this new relationship right, help him or her figure out with whom they need to start forging a relationship, which locations they need to visit in the first 60 days, and what needs to happen and by when.
By the time your new CEO has been through the entire hiring regime, they should have budding rapport with the board members and potentially some of their new direct reports. For the stakeholders who’ve had some skepticism around this hire, it’s now time for them to cast aside their differences and look at how they can help this individual be successful. Once the decision is made, it’s time to invest in this new leader and for everyone involved to focus on how to make it a mutual win.