The Hidden Opportunities of a CEO Transition

Succession planning for non-profits is a specialized topic. Please enjoy this guest post from our collaboration partner Ann Quinn of Quinn Strategy Group, about advancing your mission through a well-managed transition process.

The Hidden Opportunities of a CEO Transition

The transition from one CEO to another is a critical moment in an organization’s history. A smooth transition is essential to maintain the confidence of customers, employees, business partners and investors/donors, and provides the incoming CEO with a solid platform from which to move the organization forward.

Boards, however, often view this transition through the singular lens of CEO succession. But it’s not simply a matter of swapping out the top executive and letting everything else continue to operate as before.

My work with my clients has shown that transition has many dimensions and impacts all stakeholders and, therefore, requires a more robust and holistic strategy. In fact, a properly designed and executed succession plan is always at the center of a successful transition.

After all, this is an organization’s opportunity to challenge its operating practices, strategy and leadership culture, and taking this bigger picture approach to transition will ensure the organization uses the transition period wisely (as opposed to finding itself frozen in time until the new CEO is selected).

Specifically, the approach I recommend provides the opportunity to identify the key organizational skills, strategies and big ideas that, if focused on during the transition, enable the organization to arrive on the other side with much greater capacity, focus and energy.

A planned organizational transition typically occurs over many months, or even years. So, it’s helpful to think about it in three phases:

Assess                                      Commit                                                      Thrive

Each phase has discrete actions and intended outcomes, and different stakeholders will be involved at different points.

Take this three-phase approach and you’ll improve your chances of navigating the transition in a way that significantly increases organizational capacity.


  • Recognize that the transition you’re facing is an important punctuation point for your organization, a moment to take a step back and ask important questions.
  • Discuss the value of adopting a more robust and holistic approach to transition with your board, leadership team and search firm – make sure everyone understands that the transition isn’t only about finding the perfect CEO.
  • Then work with this same team to develop a plan that clearly maps out actions and milestones for each of the three phases with an eye toward:
    • Creating a framework that will drive senior leadership development and align leaders with the strategic needs of the organization.
    • Providing the CEO (through an ongoing analysis of the job requirements) the opportunity to adjust his or her role in light of changing business conditions and strategic imperatives.
    • Strengthening the relationship and information flow between the board and the senior leadership team through the regular contact that is a natural part of reviewing CEO candidates and developing strategic initiatives.
  • Finally, remember that every organization will experience transition, likely more than one. The more holistic and robust your approach to transition is (and the more prepared you are for transition in advance), the more your organization will benefit from this valuable process – a process that many leaders don’t recognize as such, but which YOU now will.


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