Considering Culture During CEO Succession Planning
8 December 2020
Changing CEO can cause significant anxiety among employees due to the inherent uncertainty of changing the top leadership position. There may be concerns that career aspirations or ways of working will be disrupted, and levels of trust and employee engagement can be impacted. However, by planning the handover carefully, and communicating openly throughout, you can avoid many of these issues. Here are four ways to encourage a successful CEO succession and make sure that the transition does not negatively impact your culture.
1) Provide support
A primary criterion for a seamless and successful transition from one leadership to the next is solid support given by the board, the outgoing CEO, and, ideally, the CHRO. The new leader must feel empowered. This display of support from everyone at the top will spread through the organization. Strong belief in the new CEO by prominent leaders will help other employees trust them too.
2) Be authentic
The incoming CEO should reflect on their leadership style and strengths and prioritize authenticity and transparency. Authenticity encourages employee buy-in by dissipating fears of the unknown. Along with transparency about any changes to strategic direction, employees are left with the sense of ‘what we see is what we get’.
3) Use trusted advisors
Make sure your leadership teams remain open to input from succession planning experts. Search consultants bring strong expertise in the complexities of leadership transition. They typically understand the leadership style of the new CEO, the outgoing CEO, and how these match up with the organization’s dominant cultural traits. This knowledge is vital to emphasize strong connection points between the parties while mitigating the risks of potential conflicts.
4) Promote diversity and inclusion
Diversity, equality, and inclusion should be central to every organization’s culture, and there is no better place to model this than at the very top. When selecting candidates for the CEO role, request a diverse candidate slate, and make sure your culture has a high level of psychological safety. As the new CEO steps into the role, be conscious of any bias, derogatory language, or business processes that may restrict their ability to be fully authentic.
This is the fourth article of a four-part series on how executive search firms help organizations to evaluate, maintain, and shape culture. The series was developed by interviewing search consultants from around the world.