Boards are our business

News and Views

10 Questions Boards Should be Asking About CEO Transition

June 4, 2020

Posted in: WATSON Views

Was your board in the middle of a CEO transition when COVID-19 hit? You’re not alone. With a median global CEO tenure of five years[1], many boards have found themselves in the midst of a pandemic, navigating the ever challenging and important task of finding their next CEO.

In addition to thinking about what they need in the next CEO, boards now have to think about how they will ensure they are making the right decision, as they grapple with what the crisis means for the organization, its strategies, business model, and people. This is an unprecedented time and there is no playbook. Boards should consider their context and ask themselves:

  1. Do we have the option of delaying our search or relying on an interim leader?
  2. What are the risks of deferring or continuing a leadership shift?
  3. Will a delay in leadership transition enhance or further threaten the survival and relevancy of our organization?
  4. Will we emerge from this crisis stronger and more prepared for transition or will we have lost ground and be even more vulnerable in three to six months?
  5. How will the pandemic fundamentally affect the business and what are the related implications for what will define success for the CEO?
  6. What stage of evolution will the next CEO need to lead in the context of the post-COVID organization – innovate, ‘go to the next level’, stabilize to remain afloat?
  7. Based on our current and future context, what changes do we need to make to our CEO profile in terms of skills, experience, and characteristics?
  8. Are we prepared to be fundamentally open and transparent with candidates about the state of the business?
  9. With the new realities and circumstances, what can the CEO learn on the job and what must they already demonstrate they know, in order to give confidence in their ability to lead?
  10. Do we have the support we need to make this decision, find the right leader, and communicate with candidates, employees, and stakeholders?

CEO transition is rarely straightforward. It depends on the organization’s current context and point in its evolution, the organization’s strategy and future direction, and the range of options available to the board. The current situation adds complexity to an already complex decision, one that many board directors find themselves making for the first time. It also creates opportunity – aligning organizational transition and leadership transition to prepare for a markedly different future.