You have hired a new CEO – good for you! As a member of the Search Committee, you have spent the last several months focused on finding the very best leader for your organization. You are likely excited that your work is done and looking forward to the new CEO coming on board. Now it’s time to pat yourself on the back and take a break after a job well done, right? Wrong! The job of a Search Committee doesn’t end when the new CEO signs the offer letter. The success of a new leader relies upon the support they receive both before and after they start. As such, it is important that the Search Committee play an active role in onboarding. Here are some ways you can help your new CEO be successful.
- Create an official Transition Committee. It should be comprised of the Search Committee Chair and other active Board members who can help make introductions. It may also include other key stakeholders who can help the committee stay organized – for example, the HR Director or the Executive Assistant to the CEO. This committee should be small and involved but ideally not more than five people. Having a structured committee is a way to hold yourselves accountable to supporting and guiding the CEO.
- Put together pertinent information that the new CEO can read before arriving on the first day. This should include budget information and audits for the last few years, fundraising goals, a list of the top donors and funders, program information, the current strategic and/or annual plan, the history of the organization, marketing materials, upcoming events, the bylaws, calendar of Board and Committee meetings for the current year, Board bios, and minutes/agendas from recent Board meetings.
- Create a list of the key stakeholders. The new CEO will rely upon you for these names and introductions. Who are your most important relationships? This could be Board members, former Board members, donors, funders, partner organizations, clients etc. When available, share the history of the person’s involvement with the organization. If the list is long, they should be prioritized so that the new CEO knows who to contact in the first 30, 60 or 90 days.
- Meet with the new CEO early and regularly. Discuss what has gone right and what has gone wrong over the past couple of years. By understanding what has worked or failed, the new CEO can learn from the past. Let them know what the dreams for the organization are. Be transparent about obstacles and opportunities. It can be lonely to be the CEO and having a small group of dedicated Board members can make a big difference in their outlook and their early successes.
- Collaborate with the new CEO on goals. Often a new CEO is expected to establish their goals for the year within the first 90 days. Although they will have a good idea of what the important goals are before starting in the position, having a Transition Committee will help them determine what is realistic or not.
- Give them time to get to know the internal culture. While much of the CEO’s time during this honeymoon period will involve meeting external constituents, spending time getting to know the staff within the organization is equally important. The new CEO needs to take the time to understand the existing staff and culture, evaluate strengths and opportunities for growth, and focus on culture building.
- Be helpful but not overly involved in operations. If the CEO role has been vacant, there is a tendency for Board members to become involved with the day-to-day work of the organization. Although this can be a necessity during a vacancy, once the search is complete, it is time to step back and let the new CEO be in charge. Let them know you are available to help if they require it, but the new CEO needs to be given the opportunity to lead.
- Be Positive. Let others know how excited you are about the new CEO. Think of yourself as their ambassador. Supporting them involves cheering them on but also talking them up to others. You only have one chance to make a first impression and you should want your CEO to feel welcomed and introduced to the community in the most positive light.
Although it is tempting to feel that your job on a Search Committee is done once the search is over, supporting the new CEO with an organized transition plan is critical. Without one, the new CEO will spend precious time figuring out who to meet, what information they need and where to look. With a strong Transition Committee in place, the new CEO will get to know the organization better, be more likely to have some early wins, and be able to focus on the future ahead.