When the average CEO tenure is shrinking and the appointment of new CEOs happens more frequently, planning and executing CEO succession communications is becoming a core competency for chief communication officers.
Based on an analysis of leading Fortune 100 companies and our own experience managing CEO changes, here are some key insights and lessons my company has learned about CEO transition communications.
1. It’s important to understand and manage the dynamic between the outgoing and incoming CEO.
How the standing CEO interacts with his/her named successor and the way that relationship is portrayed is a key element to success.
- Internal candidates are generally viewed more positively by all stakeholders than external candidates. But this also depends on the health of the company at the time. If the company is in crisis, then bringing in an external executive could be seen as a positive.
- That succession is taking place as a result of expected, voluntary retirement is the best message to convey in a transition. In other words, a new CEO being named is part of the company’s known succession planning process. The message here is: “It’s a change in leadership, not a change in strategy.”
- It’s important to acknowledge the legacy of the outgoing CEO—unless the exit is taking place under a cloud. Activities should be based on the personality of the CEO and the company culture. Ideas range from naming a company building after the person, making a donation to a favorite charity, and holding events. One company hosted an ice cream social because that was in keeping with the CEO’s low-key nature. Select media interviews can be used to profile the outgoing CEO’s successes, and reaffirm the company’s health.
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