Handing off Power: Transitioning the CEO Role

by Aman Singh Das | June 02, 2009

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Last week, the firstAfrican-American woman became CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Ursula Burnssucceeds Anne Mulcahy in taking over the reins of Xerox. While the media andblogosphere went into hyper mode over what this meant for women and diverseprofessionals in terms of role models, what wasn’t discussed was the transitionand ease with which the two women planned the succession.

Transitions at the executivelevel can be hard and tumultuous, especially in a recession, when leadership isunder even more scrutiny than usual and employees are constantly on edge. Ofcourse, having been with the company for almost three decades alone eases thetransition because of the established rapport with executives and employeesalike. But here are some quick pointers to keep in mind for the executivehanding off the reins.

1)    Make itclear. Once the decision is made, begin advocating the transition inmeetings and in informal settings. The executive succeeding you should feelhappy about the role ahead and there is no better way to emphasize this thanmaking sure the rest of the company is on board for it. At Xerox, the two womenhave been talking about the decision and Ms. Burns’ eventual role for almosttwo years and it was internally known that she would be the next CEO.Familiarity makes it easier for employees to remain productive and positiveknowledge will reduce gossip and ensure few disruptions.

2)    Strategizeand be prepared. Lay down a strategy for yourself and your successor. Agood strategy will ensure few disruptions while making sure that everyone is onthe same page. In an economy when layoffs make the news more dominantly thanpromotions, it is paramount that you strategize the transition transparentlyand without ambiguity about the role, the duties and the overseeingresponsibilities.

3)     Encourage decision making. Allow yourteam to make decisions and brainstorm under the leadership of your successorand without your absolute stamp. Sort of like role play, it will demonstratemany elements. First, is she capable of taking charge and illustratingleadership? Second, is the team ready to give her their trust and know that theright decision will be made? While you’re not saying she is already the boss, youare ceding power slowly.

4)    Internalbefore external. Finally, make sure your team knows what’s coming beforethe media does. With Ms. Burns’ example, Xerox workers knew for a couple ofyears that the transition was in place and that Ms. Mulcahy had been workingwith Ms. Burns on this for a while. This knowledge helps create a happyworkforce while ensuring that the new CEO gets equal trust and confidence fromher company staffers.

Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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