Many estimates show that 40% of new CEOs will fail within their first 18 months. According to the Harvard Business Review, one of the primary reasons for this is that they fail to grasp the cultural and political aspects of the company, which result in a lack of support from the CEO’s executive team. Though many boards want to hire a CEO then give her room to lead, the lack of a CEO succession and onboarding plan sets her up for failure. And though there are many important elements to an executive onboarding plan, one of the most important is helping the CEO win over her executive team.
Getting a new boss is always stressful, especially when your boss happens to be the CEO and was brought in to “take things in a new direction.” Bringing in a new CEO can leave your executive leadership team feeling frustrated, fearful and uncertain about their future at the company. There are also likely a few who felt they were a prime candidate for the role and are disappointed to have lost out to an outside hire. Some will leave—that’s almost inevitable. But if you don’t plan on doing a complete overhaul of your executive team, here are some executive onboarding best practices to get buy in from your leadership team right away.
Explain the “Why” and Promote Transparency
Before the new CEO starts, the board, former CEO or Human Resources team lead should explain to the company and executive team why things are changing, why they decided to go with an outside hire and why this particular candidate was the right choice. The more transparency you can provide, the more trusting the executive team will be of the new direction, the board and the new CEO. You’ll also want to communicate to each executive why you want them to stay at the company and how the new CEO will help them succeed. During this tumultuous time, executives need a little extra reassurance, or they’ll quickly jump ship.
During her first few weeks, the CEO should spend a significant amount of time with her new leadership team explaining her vision for the company. A lot of trust building occurs during this time. Frequent meetings also provide executives an opportunity to learn how they can succeed under the new command. Throughout these meetings, the CEO should ask the leadership team—who knows the company’s history, values and employees—for feedback on her ideas. Not only will the leaders feel like they’re a part of the “new” company, but it will give the CEO an opportunity to learn about her team and their ways of thinking and working.
Create a Transition Committee
The process of replacing a CEO is not over once the contract is signed. It requires months and sometimes a year before the executive onboarding process is complete. Not only does it require a lot of time, but due to the nature of the position, it also requires a team of people. While succession planning typically falls onto the plate of the board, board directors should consider creating a transition committee comprised of board members, the HR team, the incumbent CEO if possible and executive team members.
Give each member of the executive team a specific responsibility during the transition and CEO’s first few weeks. By allowing the executive team to be part of the onboarding and transition process, they’ll feel more comforted by the change.
If the incumbent CEO is leaving voluntarily, you may want to consider a period of overlap between when she leaves and when the new CEO starts, so she can help ease the transition and promote positive relationships between the new CEO and leadership team.
The HR team should also be involved in the succession and onboarding process top to bottom. Much like onboarding for any other employee, HR should help communicate the non-business-related information to the CEO including people, politics and culture—things that are often overlooked until misunderstandings occur.
Transition your Team
Though the new CEO should be the number one focus of succession planning, the board, executive team members and the rest of the company will also require some transition assistance. Though sensitive situations don’t always allow for total transparency, try to include leadership in the succession process as early as possible. Beyond sharing the news of a new CEO, be sure to speak to the board and leadership teams about expectations during and after the transition.
During CEO onboarding, the board members and leadership team may need to take on some additional tasks and provide assistance, so the CEO can get up and running quickly. For each duty assigned to a person, attach a timeline to it so everyone knows what is expected of them.
Once the new CEO is fully onboarded, the dynamics between the CEO and the board or the CEO and the executive team may shift. Make sure everyone is made aware of the new CEO’s management and leadership style and make it known that flexibility and adaptability will be necessary. Learning to work together is a two-way street, and the more information you can share with your staff about the new CEO, the better equipped they will be to form a healthy relationship from the start. The same goes for the CEO.
Equip the CEO with Tools for Success
Your new CEO is walking into a situation where she has a lot to learn in a short amount of time. So much like you prepare financial reports and sales presentations, prepare some information on your staff, particularly the leadership team. The new CEO understands there may be some team members whose feathers she ruffled just by walking in the door. If someone’s likely to cause trouble or remain skeptical of the hire, let your CEO know what she’s up against so she can try to win them over.
Likewise, if there are key players that the company would like to keep around, make sure the CEO is made aware of that, so she can go out of her way to make a good impression and form a solid working relationship with those individuals.
You’ll also want to outline the strengths, weaknesses, work styles and responsibilities of each member of the executive team, so your new CEO has an understanding of her new team as soon as she begin working with them. The more information she has, the better chance she has of gaining trust and getting buy in from her executive team.
If you’re looking to hire a CEO or other leadership team member and need help with the search, hiring and onboarding processes, contact the team at PeopleFoundry. We’d love to help you find the crazy ones who will take your company to new heights.