CEO transition support – how getting it right can make the difference

At Creative Metier we believe strongly that formalising CEO transition support can reduce the risk to the programme, its funders and ultimately secure the quality and continuity of delivery to beneficiaries. Dedicated support through coaching and working sessions dramatically reduces the time taken for an incoming CEO to get up to speed, and ensures that more complex strategic and environmental considerations and relationships are given appropriate focus.

Experienced NGO CEO Kevin Moorhead speaks to Creative Metier about the risks associated with CEO transition and his reflections on the value of the dedicated transition support he received when moving from one CEO role to another.

Details of the organisations have been kept confidential.

What do you see as the top three risks associated with CEO transition for a programme or organisation?

  • Continuity of business: The incoming CEO is inevitably going to want to put their stamp on their organisation and that can be quite a large cultural and strategic shift unless it is managed well by the board
  • Cultural clash: You want to ensure that the new leader maintains the current culture or at least adapts that culture positively. We had created a friendly, open working environment with high morale in Afghanistan for example, and it was important that this was maintained
  • External perception of instability: It is critical that external perceptions of the organisation are managed, especially amongst donor partners who will be wary of any type of problem or threats to quality of work; so managing these external perceptions is key

What was the impact of the CEO transition support on the organisation you were leaving?

The support was largely focused around the process of transitioning to CEO of an NGO in East Africa, but regarding my leaving Afghanistan, succession planning is key. Through the support provided, we were able to structure a succession planning process, which was seamless and conducted in a spirit of openness over a long period of time. I was able to appoint my deputy, who had worked closely with me over three years. Clarifying and formalising the timing around that transition was useful.

What was the impact of the CEO transition support on the organisation you were joining?

That was really around helping me to prepare to come in to the role with a realistic perception of the situation, with a realistic pan for my first six to twelve months, and high levels plans beyond that. My sessions with Glynis were invaluable. By the time I hit the ground in East Africa, I had a lot of thinking already in place. I had a good idea where I wanted to focus, and what to do, I asked the right questions, matched the reality to the vision and then it was about implementation.

What was the most valuable aspect of the support provided?

The one on one coaching sessions allowed me to plan my approach for when I hit the ground in East Africa. To create a very clear strategy and approach for taking over this complex role in a challenging environment. The ability to prepare in advance was invaluable. The provision of coaching and support prior to taking up a role is critical. Having a month or two lead time can be really valuable in the transition process. I was glad the onboarding began prior to the beginning of the new role.

If you could summarise in one sentence why Boards might wish to adopt a more formal approach to supporting CEO transition, what might that be?

CEOs and hence the organisation, benefit massively from a structured, funded, well thought out process with clear expectations from the board. Boards have the power to mandate a thorough onboarding process that includes coaching in addition to structured meetings with stakeholders to ensure that effective local relationships are established. I found formalising the process very beneficial.

We are immensely grateful to Kevin for sharing his insights.

If you would like to talk to us about supporting CEO transition then get in touch: