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Transitions at the Top: What Organizations Must Do to Make Sure New Leaders Succeed

Transitions at the Top: What Organizations Must Do to Make Sure New Leaders Succeed

Dan Ciampa, David L. Dotlich

ISBN: 978-1-119-15382-5

May 2015, Jossey-Bass

288 pages

Select type: O-Book


Ensure the Success of Critical C-Suite Transitions from Within

"Without a doubt, corporations have raised their game on the use of various techniques to improve the likelihood that externally hired talent will succeed in their most business-critical roles. What many companies haven't done, however, is to spend the same amount of time on building a set of transition practices to further increase the probability these executives will thrive and prosper in their new roles and in their new companies. The cost of a failed transition is monumental, and comes in the form of missed market opportunities, a loss of business momentum, reputational damage, and potential damage to the credibility of the CEO and/or the company-s board of directors. Fortunately, Dan Ciampa and David Dotlich outline a practical, compelling playbook that if properly executed, will substantially increase the chance of success in senior leadership transitions. A timely and important book on a very important subject."
—L. Kevin Cox, Chief Human Resources Officer, American Express Company; Director, Kraft Foods Group; Director, Corporate Executive Board

"Senior transitions are seminal events but are often botched, at great cost to the company and its shareholders. Too often succession decisions are made by a board, with those crucial first months then left entirely to the new manager to navigate. This book takes a different vantage point and illuminates the critical role of the company, its board, and senior managers in making sure those vital successions work. Written in a straightforward, practical manner, a must read for all involved."
—Ken Leibler, former CEO of Liberty Financial Companies and former President of the American Stock Exchange; Director, Northeast Utilities; Trustee, Putnam Investments Funds

"Transitions at the Top is a welcome, long-overdue addition to our thinking about leadership and transitions. Far too little attention has been paid to the dynamics and consequences of CEO succession, especially to the critical role the organization plays in driving success or failure. As Ciampa and Dotlich clearly demonstrate, the costs of botched succession processes are very high. And what it takes to make them work is not rocket science, nor is it overly costly or burdensome. It just takes discipline, clarity about roles, and unswerving commitment to the right principles and processes. Follow their advice and the result will be world-class succession planning and implementation. This is a book that every CEO, Board member and senior HR executive should read."
—Michael Watkins, Author of First 90 Days, Co-Founder of Genesis Advisors

Preface xiii

Acknowledgements xix

Introduction 1

The Transition Challenge 3

The Roots of Failure 7

Complexity 7

Thinking Errors 8

Execution Errors 9

Roles for Success 11

The Board’s Role 11

The CEO’s Role 13

The CHRO’s Role 15

The Senior Managers’ Role 17

1 Complexity and Critical Crossroads 21

Complexity 25

Individual Adjustments 25

CEO 25

Board 27


Senior Managers 32

Systemic Adjustments 34

Strategic 34

Operational 36

Political 39

Cultural 41

Summary 45

2 Three Destructive Myths 47

Myths Plaguing Transitions at the Top 56

Myth 1: People Join Companies All the Time…It’s No Big Deal 58

Myth 2: Our Job Is Done When the One We Want Says “Yes” 62

Myth 3:We Know What He Can Do 65

How Transition Myths Bar Productive Thinking 71

Lack of Empathy 71

Lack of Learning 73

Lack of Questioning 74

Leaving Tough Questions Unanswered 76

Summary 79

3 Errors of Execution 81

Relationship between Incumbent and Successor 85

Preparing for Only One Transition 90

The Leader Who Departs 90

Derivative Defections 93

Mismanaging the Transition Process 96

Not Organizing and Interpreting the Right Information 96

How Things Really Get Done 97

Culture and Power Structure 98

Power and Influence 104

Not Preparing Major Players for the Right Roles 106

Mishandling the Onboarding of the New Leader 109

Summary 114

4 The Board’s Role 117

Directors as Major Players 121

Oversight for the Transition 127

Managing Relationships 134

Judging Performance 143

Expectations 146

Cultural and Political Attention 148

Summary 150

5 The CEO’s Role 153

Controlling the Steps and Pace 157

Role 158

The Search and the Transition 162

Ensuring Other Players Do What They Must 166

Self-Management and Self-Awareness 171

Summary 177

6 The CHRO’s Role 179

Great Senior Staffing Support 185

Help for the New Leader 192

What the New Leader Must Do 192

Learning 193

Visioning 194

Coalition Building 196

Methods and Mechanisms for Relationships 198

Connecting 201

Listening 203

Summary 210

7 The Senior Manager’s Role 215

Shaping Organization Opinion 220

Delivering Support 227

Building Winning Relationships 234

Summary 241

8 Summary 245

Index 253