Four Ways to Make CEO Transition Work

Guest blog by Jim Gauss

The margin for error in the selection and onboarding of hospital and health system CEOs is thin and getting thinner with the passage of health care reform legislation. The selection process can be tough and time-consuming. Trustees or board members may want to sit back and take a breather after they’ve made their choice of a leader.

Don’t do it!

Here are some strategies that may help avoid having to repeat the search process too soon:

1. Match need to style. Some leaders want to make their mark with bold steps—read “big changes”—while others prefer to build on existing momentum. Board members should be honest with themselves and with prospective candidates about what the organization needs and make sure the leader’s style matches the reality.

2. Tell the whole story. The incoming CEO needs to understand the institution’s history, political cross-currents, and internal morays before he or she starts work. Nothing derails a new leader faster than an inadvertent, and avoidable, foot in his or her mouth.

3. Plan a graceful exit. Trustees need to articulate expectations about the level and interaction of the old and new leaders, and clarify how and when the outgoing CEO will exit. No matter how amiable the transition, a vague hand-off of responsibilities creates an awkward start for your new executive.

And now that your new leader is in place and working, don’t forget that the relationship requires ongoing attention.

4. Provide for ongoing, two-way feedback. It’s lonely at the top. In many cases, the trustees will serve as the CEO’s only safe sounding board as he or she navigates the politics of the new organization, including the strengths and weaknesses of the executive team. Similarly, board leaders need to provide direct feedback to the chief executive to allow for course correction and effective teamwork if and when a crisis arises.

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