CEO onboarding: the board's missed opportunity: five ways the board can improve its 'launching' of a new CEO.

Author:Nadler, Mark

A presumptive "Mission Accomplished"? Here's an all-too-common situation. The board feels good about completing one of its most important duties: selecting the next CEO. Press releases announce the event, and during the first part of their crucial First 100 Days, the new CEO meets customers, employees, regulators, unions, the media and a host of other constituencies in an attempt to get a fast start. The board gives the new CEO space and time to do that important work, and leaves it up to their new chief executive to get to know these various stakeholders.

But then something goes wrong. As the first full board meeting approaches, the CEO feels whiplashed and suddenly overwhelmed by board-related activities--responding to one-off requests from directors, preparing for meetings, burying the executive team in gathering information and assembling presentations, and practicing intense shuttle diplomacy. The new CEO is experiencing the all-too-common symptoms of board-related vertigo--if not at the first board meeting, almost certainly by the second.

Listen to these comments:

* "I was least prepared for dealing with the board. There was no way to be prepared. And I had been on the board before I became CEO!"

* "I had always reported to one person. At first, I thought of the board as a single entity, then realized I was actually reporting to 11 people."

Those comments represent a common theme that emerged from a recent study titled "Expect the Unexpected" by The River Group, which captured the reflections of more than 75 CEOs on what it was like to "become the CEO." Both that study, as well as a similar 2013 report by Heidrick & Struggles involving nearly 60 CEOs, found that one of the biggest surprises encountered by new CEOs --and one of the challenges for which they are least prepared--involves the enormous, time-consuming and generally unstructured task of quickly developing an effective working relationship with the board.

To our continuing surprise, support for this immediate new CEO's need fails to show up in most CEO onboarding plans. Instead, it becomes a hit-or-miss proposition, with the responsibility resting almost exclusively on the shoulders of the new CEO who is simultaneously immersed in learning the organization, its talent, its strategy, its customers, its shareholders and investors, its partners and suppliers ... the list of initial 'to do's' is virtually endless.

The importance of addressing this challenge for first-time CEOs...

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