How Boards and Staff Can Support an Effective Executive Transition

Foundation_interim CEO September 14, 2021 By: Jenny Nelson

A recent ASAE Research Foundation study highlights how different stakeholders can work with interim CEOs to ensure that their organization remains strong, and potentially even improves, during an executive transition.

The passing of the baton from one executive leader to the next creates uncertainty, and it may seem doubly so when an interim CEO is temporarily in charge. But forthcoming research from the ASAE Research Foundation underscores the value and opportunity that interims can provide to an organization.

Association Research Consulting—in collaboration with the foundation, Vetted Solutions, and The Ancora Group—conducted interviews with interim CEOs, subsequent CEOs, board members, and senior staff at 15 associations. While the importance of interims and subsequent CEOs to effective transitions is clear, the research revealed that diverse organizational stakeholders, including board members and staff, have a part to play in the success of the transition.

The takeaways below highlight the ways these stakeholders can work with interim CEOs for better professional and organizational success.

Advice for Boards

What does your organization’s succession plan look like? According to the research, planning to use an interim CEO may be a particularly good bet for ensuring continued organizational success. All 15 association board members interviewed for the study agreed that hiring an interim CEO was the right decision for their organization, even if things didn’t always go smoothly.

Regardless of the organization’s situation, the board can look to an interim CEO to fulfill certain functions. If an organization needs to reset, an interim executive—especially one with solid experience in association management—can provide fresh eyes and expertise to start the organization down the path toward change. Even if an association is in a good place, an interim CEO will set up the subsequent permanent CEO for success, often by making hard but necessary decisions so the permanent CEO won’t have to make those changes. Perhaps most important, an interim CEO provides steady leadership to give the board the time needed to find the right permanent CEO.

Whatever role is required, the research recommends that the board make those expectations clear to prospective interims. That understanding provides the foundation for an productive relationship between the board and the interim.

Advice for Staff

The staff members interviewed for the study all agreed that the transition was a difficult time. An organization may experience dramatic change, and even if it doesn’t, staff may be facing new or uncertain expectations.

Regardless of personal feelings, the organization is going to change, so it’s helpful for staff members to consider the value in being a part of the change. Many interim CEOs will do “listening tours” or other kinds of outreach to staff. Employees should take advantage of these opportunities to share insights and ideas that will help the interim CEO and the organization. A time of transition may also provide the opportunity for staff to change the way they work together, break down silos, and start new dialogues about the work to be done and how to do it.

Jenny Nelson

Jenny Nelson is director, content and knowledge resources, at ASAE.