Is Your organisation Fully Exploring The Opportunities When the CEO Departs?


By Chris Gandy

We have posted in the past about the great value an organisation can derive from an Executive Transition Program and this is time and again reinforced when I come across people who have gone through the process – and here is another real life example.

I have known Gerry for ages. He was the CEO of a very successful mid-sized Financial Services company. I knew he had retired but didn’t know what he had been up to in his retirement so when I ran into him last week in the street I was eager to find out what he had been up to.  This is his story…….

“When I thought I retired I decided to put my hand up for a few not for profit boards. I ended up on the Boards of three organisations with entirely different missions. Two where really kicking goals and doing wonderfully well while the third, a membership based organisation, was no better than treading water – no prizes for guessing which one was taking the greatest proportion of my time!

Then within a matter of weeks of me joining that organisation the CEO resigned. She was fifth CEO they had had in 12 years.

The Board was well experienced in recruiting new CEOs. We trotted out the same ad we had used 12 years ago and for each subsequent recruit. We also dusted off a twelve-year-old position description and put it in the candidate information pack. I was very uncomfortable with the whole groundhog day process but I had been there five minutes and other Board members assured me they have had no problems attracting quality candidates in the past. So I went along with it but did get myself on the recruitment committee.

The other board members where right – we were able to attract good candidates. But as we went through the selection process I began to feel more uncomfortable. To be able to inform and assess the candidates I made it a point to learn more about the operational side of the business. In doing so I learnt that a number of systems were well past their used by date and I sensed there were quite a few under-current staff issues. The board was keen to find someone to take the organisation forward but I feared that they would be caught up forever putting out operational and people bushfires.

We made an offer but the candidate eventually declined. Our second elect had found another position and withdrew. The Board was all for re-advertising but I counselled them to hold off and put my hand up to go in as Interim CEO. I really wanted to smarten-up the operational side of the organisation and learn whether there was any substance to the staff issues. I also had a feeling that our preferred candidate declined because of concerns he had with the current state of the organisation and we ran the risk of having the same thing happen next time around unless we made the position more attractive.

The Board eventually agreed and I remained in the role for 8 months and it proved to be a watershed experience for the organisation.

We characterised my time there as the rebirthing of the organisation. Staff rose to the occasion, flooded me with suggestions and we brought the organisation into the 21st century. But the single biggest revelation to me and the rest of the Board was that our perception of the key elements of the CEO role was all wrong.

We had assumed the number one priority for the CEO was to formulate policy and lobbying the various arms of government. I found I did none of this directly – it was carried out by the Chair and other peak bodies we belonged to. My time in reality was almost entirely taken up by event management and providing advice to members. We had been looking for the wrong skill set.

On the basis of my experience we completely revamped the CEO position description, readvertised and eventually recruited a fine CEO who in her first six months has increased our membership by 40%.

The stand-out lesson for me was that a CEO departure offers unique opportunities for renewal and fresh thinking.”

Is your organisation fully exploring the opportunities when a CEO departs?

About Chris:  Chris Gandy is the founder and director of Cause and Effective – a provider of contingent resourcing, leadership search and executive transition services to cause-based organisations.

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

Thats our take on things. Over to you, please add to the discussion.

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