Bringing on a New CEO

Change is normal, but never feels right when you're at the receiving end of it.  It's the same for your employees when inheriting new leadership. You've conducted an intense search to find the right fit for your company, perhaps with key shareholders and your board of directors involved. Now you need to introduce your decision to other leadership and employees in a way that helps them embrace the change.

Undoubtedly with a new CEO comes a fresh, new vision for the company and the opportunity, or challenge, of launching it internally.  We consistently see companies hold that vision tight, script a very intense release of a new strategy, and then wonder why retention rates suffer and productivity decreases.  Some key objectives when you're introducing a new leader and his/her vision are to make changes clear, get employee input and buy-in, and be consistent and frequent with your communication. Think constant drumbeat here.

So, easier said than done, right?  As usually is the case, with a new CEO comes other new leadership and sometimes the departure of some trusted individuals with a good bit of history at the company.  This doesn't make the job of getting buy-in easier, but it does create an opportunity for engagement.  

Having helped companies through this process, the one thing that is clear is that attention is heightened during a time of transition. Employees, clients, analysts, consumers -- either rooting for your company or not -- want to know what will happen, and in most cases, want to have some influence.  Setting the tone with your communications and with engagement opportunities will help them feel a part of the process, understand your vision and be willing to support and contribute to its success.

With all of that in mind, consider the following for welcoming a new CEO to your company:

Be as open as possible during the search process
Explain the process for finding a new CEO to your staff, and where you are with that process.  Short of divulging who is on the list, there are many things you can share with the company to help people understand that the company's future is secure.  For example: who is on the search committee (board members, shareholders, search firm, HR, other leadership, etc.); what traits are you searching for in a leader; how many people are being seriously considered; what is the planned timing for making a decision.  Including an outlet for questions and submission of ideas to the search firm creates an open forum for conversation and builds trust in the process.  

Do initial outreach
We've seen new CEOs do some terrific outreach, even before their first day leading the company.  Personal phone calls and lunches/meetings with existing leadership demonstrate the desire to build trust, understand existing state of the business from a variety of perspectives.  Doing these one-on-one gives each of the existing managers a chance to shine and share information.  Whether the CEO is coming from inside the company or outside of it, this is a great step to getting your leadership on board and to leverage their experience to solidify your direction for the company. Once you've heard them, it's much easier to sell your vision.  The best cases of initial outreach include as many levels of leadership and management as possible, individually or in small groups. 

Brand the change process
Part of the battle to making a change accessible is to help people identify with it.  We've seen companies brand change internally to draw attention to opportunities to influence it and have an open dialogue.  Good practices with branding this type of change include:  keep it positive, indicate that every employee owns the change to come, respect the company's history.  

Here are a couple of examples:
  • Discovery Communications - Reaching New Heights - this one is positive, shows where the company can go, respects where it has been, implies that everyone needs to do it together.
  • PG&E - Transformation@Work - this one indicates that change is happening and employees are a key part of it, also that it's a process, not something just done to them.
Develop clear messages and provide access to real information
You're getting the idea that more information is better than less information.  So, consider your company's platforms for getting the word out.  Do you have a robust intranet?  Do you have an e-newsletter or do regular webcasts?  Do you have a corporate blog?  To keep the drumbeat consistent, leverage your most frequented communications channels to push your messages about the new leadership.  

A best practice includes creating an online hub for news and resources surrounding the introduction of new leadership.  The hub should reinforce the new vision of the company, include any and all internal and external news (we'll get to that in a sec), and offer resources to support employee success during the process pointing to engagement opportunities (see below).  We've built them before with these types of sections:
  • Get to know the CEO - include bio, photos, video message, blog/personal q&a, testimonials, an opportunity to send him/her a message
  • A New Vision for the Company - info about the introduction of the new vision, visioning meeting schedule
  • Organizational News and Information  - include internal and external news about the transition you're going through.  Including both positive and negative news that may evolve externally builds your credibility with employees (acknowledging that you know they see this stuff anyway).
  • Resources for Success - Training courses (leading during times of change, for example), reference library, access to change ambassadors, flexibility and work-life resources available at your company.
  • Get Involved!  - here's a spot for your key engagement opportunities...discussion boards, recognition program links, idea campaigns 
So, back to the "real" part of the message.  The critical aspect of introducing a new leader is to be as genuine as possible and to deliver a consistent and real message platform to employees.  Your workforce is smart, right?  Otherwise you wouldn't have hired them.  Keep that in mind as you share information.  This builds confidence in the new leader and shows integrity.  Past IABC surveys show that topics that employees want to know from CEOs include:  the future of the organization, overall corporate strategy, top-line financial results, major changes and restructurings, board feedback, major stakeholder issues and responses to media attention.  Don't forget, you have their attention during the transition. (Incidentally, IABC is a great resource for information about employee communication).

Create engagement opportunities
Last, but certainly not the least of concepts when introducing a new CEO, creating avenues for employees to participate in the change process enhances its success.  If you traditionally haven't asked for input, you might be surprised that employees have been waiting for a chance to offer opinions, but want to do it in a low risk way.  We've done great town hall meetings, sharing tons of information and providing visibility and access to new CEOs, but with few live questions from employees.  Really, who wants to be the one of the first to question the new CEO in front of the entire company?  (That's why those small groups are so much better at the onset of the CEO's tenure - and are smart to continue).  Here are some other techniques to give employees a way to interact:
  • Change Ambassadors - look for individuals in your organization that are natural opinion leaders in their area of the company.  Often your HR group can help you identify them.  Bring them together to share their ideas on how to get employees on board and develop a grass-roots engagement plan.  Give them the tools to share information (department blogs, videocasts, meeting budgets, etc.).
  • Transition Stunts - depending upon the culture of your company, it can help to introduce a light, fun engagement activity to get people thinking about what it would be like to be the new CEO.  Whether a photo contest, story submission series, or employee-generated video stunt, ask employees to share their perspectives with the rest of the company and develop energy, excitement, empathy and engagement.
  • Idea Sharing Program - If you have one, perfect, if not, a CEO transition is a great time to launch one.  You're employees are closest to the business on a day-to-day basis.  Give them an outlet to share solid business concept ideas that relate to the new vision and watch your business begin to solve long-time issues.
  • Recognition Program - During transitions is the best time to acknowledge important contributions.  It shows you're paying attention and appreciate the challenge associated with embracing a new vision.  Leverage your existing program or develop a special transition recognition for those change ambassadors or others that shine during the introduction of your new vision.
  • Employee Survey - Whether a full-on survey of your company or spot survey, asking for feedback about how the transition is going will help you understand your effectiveness maintaining consistency with asking for input.
Set expectations
Once you've got people smart about who the new leader is and embracing the new vision, there will always be those that just can't get on board.  The importance of clearly setting your expectations in line with your vision can't be underestimated. Consider communications expectations, performance and productivity expectations, respect in the workplace, and anything else that supports your mission, then communicate them through your mission, values and strategy with which you expect everyone to align.

There are many ways to roll out a new CEO or other leader, so share your thoughts with us!  If you need assistance introducing new leadership in your organization, Vivazu Communications can help.

No comments: