by Brittany Mihaila

June 16, 2022

Last week, we held our latest Brainfood event – one of our quarterly sessions with seasoned panelists to dive deeper into the latest trends and topics impacting our clients. This session focused on Lessons Learned in CEO Transitions, with panelists sharing how they have successfully helped organizations navigate a major leadership change and lay the groundwork for sustainable business continuity.

Throughout the discussion, three key takeaways emerged that may be helpful if your organization is preparing for a CEO transition.

1. Building and maintaining trust in the new CEO is paramount.

As our panelists reminded us, trust is earned and lost every day. One of the most important CEO responsibilities is to build and maintain strategic relationships that will enable the company to meet its goals. Every relationship – whether it be with the Board of Directors, leadership team, employees, suppliers, customers, investors or other key stakeholders – must be built on trust. It is critical for an incoming leader to take the time to understand how to accomplish this in each unique relationship. Maintaining visibility and transparency, prioritizing open communication, encouraging and accepting feedback, and remaining authentic in every interaction are a few key tactics that CEOs can apply across audiences.

2. While there are fundamental communication best practices that can be implemented to ensure a successful CEO transition, there are also many nuances to consider.

In every leadership change, an integrated communications strategy is a critical tool for ensuring a smooth transition. This strategy should include:

  • Comprehensive and compelling communication materials for internal and external use, both for the announcement and in the months that follow.
  • Key messages that clearly convey what stakeholders can expect and the new CEO’s vision for the organization.
  • A cadenced timeline of communications and meetings to support the new CEO in the first 100 days.
  • Contingency plans and materials in case the news of the transition is leaked before announcement day. While this is unlikely to happen, it is always advisable to be prepared!

Click here to see how we have partnered with our clients to support recent CEO transitions.

Of course, there is no “one size fits all” approach for navigating a significant leadership change. In analyzing your specific business’s needs, there are several variables to consider, including:

  • The context and nature of the transition – What triggered the outgoing CEO’s departure? Is the incoming CEO interim or permanent? Analyzing the specific circumstances and expected outcomes of the transition will serve as a key input to your communications plan.
  • Whether the incoming CEO is an internal promotion or an external hire – The incoming CEO’s previous relationship, or lack thereof, with your organization may require you to think about stakeholder prioritization differently and the specific messages you need to deliver to each audience.
  • The experience, capabilities and cultural background of the incoming leader – The incoming CEO’s skills and history can help determine where trust and credibility exist and where it may need to be built.

3. There is a significant opportunity, and responsibility, for communications leaders to serve as both trusted advisors to the incoming CEO and advocates for key stakeholders.

Introducing a new CEO can bring about a lot of change for an organization and its stakeholders. As communications leaders, it is our job to think about each audience and how best to communicate with them through this change. At the same time, it is also important that communications leaders provide effective counsel to incoming executives to help them be as successful as possible. Effective tips and strategies our panelists provided include:

  • Be open, honest and direct with your new CEO from the start – Transparency is the foundation for building trust and providing a new leader with clear and unbiased counsel. Being honest and forthcoming in your interactions will help you build trust and improve communication and rapport.
  • Take the time to get to know the new CEO – What is their communication style? How do they prefer to work? Getting to know their specific personality and leadership traits will enable you to help them navigate their new responsibilities and communicate authentically.
  • Ask questions and provide different viewpoints – You are an expert strategist that can help inform your new CEO’s communication approach by allowing them to consider different perspectives. Help the new CEO understand the important nuances that they should consider in their various stakeholder communications and partner with them in thinking through the impacts of these strategies to determine the best approach.

The frequency of CEO transitions remains on the rise. In fact, reports show that CEO exits increased 29% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the prior year period. If your organization is preparing for a leadership or organizational change, let’s chat about the many ways Dix & Eaton can partner with you to ensure a smooth transition.

The Dix & Eaton team would like to thank our engaging and distinguished panelists for all their efforts in making our latest Brainfood session a success:

  • Jennifer Beeman – Corporate Communications and Investor Relations Director, TimkenSteel
  • Monica Vinay – Vice President of Investor Relations and Treasurer, Myers Industries
  • Scott Chaikin – Executive Chairman, Dix & Eaton