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3 essential steps to prepare for CEO succession

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Christine O'Donnell
Written on the 28 September 2022

It is essential for all organisations to ensure their longevity. So as CEO, one of your organisation’s most critical responsibilities is to consider who is going to succeed you.

survey conducted in 2019, revealed that only 35% of organisations had a formalised succession plan in place, which means there are a lot of organisations facing the tremendous risk of not having the knowledge or infrastructure in place to ensure a smooth leadership transition. 

To ensure your organisation is prepared for the inevitable CEO transition, we share three essential tips to kick start your succession planning.

This isn’t a process that can be achieved overnight but once you have the building blocks in place you will be surprised at how much of the process is informed by one of your other critical responsibilities, and that is strategic planning.

Here’s our three essential tips:

1. Evaluate your bench strength

Realistically one or many of your current c-suite leaders should have the potential to succeed you as the next Chief Executive Officer. Is this the case? 

It is impossible to start succession planning without evaluating your organisation’s current leaders. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Identify these for each individual and ask yourself can you further enhance their strengths – are these the strengths required of a CEO? 

Are they a strong leader, a strategic thinker and a visionary; can they lead the organisation through the next stage of your organisation’s growth? 

What about their weaknesses? Can the gaps in their CEO suitability be bridged? Your role as their CEO and manager is to assist in the development of your c-suite executives by utilising their personal development plans to strengthen their identified gaps. 

Make sure you check if becoming a CEO is part of their personal career development plan. If so, then work together with your Lead People & Culture Manager to identify courses or increase their accountabilities and lead appropriate projects to develop executives who can become a CEO. Put these plans into action and you will be amazed at how engaged and energised your Executive Leadership Team (ELT) becomes.

2. The future skills your organisation needs to meet its strategic goals

As CEO you are accountable for strategically planning across different time horizons whether it be one, two, three or five year horizons. 

Your own personal goals as CEO will determine the timeframe in which you believe you have to nurture your successor. This needs to be done in alignment with the strategic goals of the organisation being very much front and centre of your thinking.

What skills will your organisation’s CEO require to achieve the strategic goals identified in five years’ time? These skills may well be very different to those of your current c-suite team members. For example, if one of the strategic goals is to be a digital leader in your sector, can you develop these skills in your current Chief Marketing Officer; perhaps through a reputable contemporary course of learning that will upgrade his or her skills to the level requirement to make CEO decisions.

3. Recruit to replace yourself

Strategic recruitment can assist in many ways to assist your CEO succession plan. Each time one of your ELT leaves is an opportunity to future proof your strategic plan with an appointment that is focused on selecting someone with the skills aligned to fulfilling the future needs of your organisation.

You also need to ask yourself with each ELT appointment – can this candidate step up and do my job? Does he or she have the executive leadership skill and the strategic thinking? Do they ask the right questions, and can they add value across all aspects of your organisation?

Actioning these three essential tips will ensure you are setting your organisation up for longevity and stability. Starting is often the biggest challenge; however, you are on your way now! Planning is your friend! 

Picture of Christine O'Donnell

Christine O'Donnell

Christine O'Donnell is the Senior Partner at Meritos, an executive search and recruitment business working with purpose-driven organisations. If you're interested in connecting with Christine, you can find her on LinkedIn here. You can also reach her via email at [email protected]
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Questions to ask to help you understand a candidate:

1. Describe your ideal working environment.

2. What do you enjoy about your current workplace?

3. How does a manager get the best out of you?

4. Describe the best team that you’ve ever worked in.

The reasons why I ask these questions:

1. Reason

2. Reason

3. Reason

4. Reason

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