Change at the Top: Ensuring Success
If you are successfully guiding a multi-million or multi-billion organization along on the leading edge of transformational change, how do you ensure it remains successful after you leave?
For insight on that challenge, executives at Huron’s 2017 CEO Forum heard from David Bernd, CEO Emeritus of Sentara Healthcare and Howard Kern, president and CEO of Sentara. Kern assumed the top leadership role at Sentara last year, taking over for Bernd who served as CEO for 21 years.
Succession planning began well before the actual handoff and was always focused internally. “In a complex organization like a healthcare system, I believe an internal succession plan is superior to having an outside individual come in, particularly if the organization is successful from a financial and quality point of view,” Bernd said.
One advantage of an internal approach is that it allows for a mentorship relationship. “Do not underestimate the importance of having a learning relationship with your next level down,” Kern said. At Sentara, the transition mentorship began three years before Bernd announced his retirement.
While recognizing that every organization is different, Bernd and Kern offered the following guidelines for succession planning.
"In a complex organization like a healthcare system, I believe an internal succession plan is superior to having an outside individual come in..." David Bernd, CEO Emeritus of Sentara Healthcare
- Values are paramount: Look for someone in the organization who shares the same ethics and business values, and who fully embodies the organizational culture.
- Set the stage: Give the potential successor a heightened role with the board well before a decision needs to be made.
- Provide confirmation: Use search firms to validate that there is a good match between the board and the potential successor.
- Get help letting go: Consider hiring a personal leadership coach to help the outgoing CEO ease the transition.
- Limit speculation: Reinforce the message that there is no decision until it is announced.
Even when no transition is imminent, organizations must focus on leadership growth, Kern said. "The commitment to business growth carries the challenge of growing the management capabilities of the organization," he said. "What are the skill sets that will be needed of a larger company and how do you make sure that you have got the management talent? That planning has to happen even if you are not looking at a retirement scenario."Contact Us