By Mike Klein on February 21, 2023
4 minute read

“A war is won before it is fought” - Sun Tzu 

In the corporate world, changes in leadership are major events.  There are also events that can be anticipated and prepared for, even if the timing is unknown.  

Few events are so predictable as the eventual change of a CEO. 

While the preparations do not have to be nearly as extensive as “Operation London Bridge” - the plan for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral last year, the idea of treating a CEO change as an expected event provides some insight not only to the preparation process - but for the logistics and messaging required to maximize the odds of a successful transition.  

From my perspective, minimum success criteria look like obtaining the new CEO’s acknowledgement of both your competence and your insights.  

If the logistics are weak, the CEO’s confidence in your credibility will be shaken and your insights might well be ignored.  If the logistics are strong and the insights are weak, the CEO will see you as merely a logistics machine. 

When To Begin? 

By far, the biggest variable in a CEO introduction is the amount of time you have between the time when the name of a new CEO is announced and when she/he takes office. 

As CEO changes are inevitable in long-standing organizations, there are certain steps that can be taken well before the actual event: 

Here are Some Obvious Things to do:

  • Continuously monitor communication AND performance data
  • Have competent logistical resources to call upon for a snap announcement
  • Prepare a set of questions to help guide your messaging and introduction process
  • Why the change? 
  • Why this CEO? 
  • Will there be other C-level positions changing immediately? 
  • What the new CEO’s priorities are expected to be? 

What is the Actual Timeframe? 

Given the traditional 90-day framework common to most introduction processes, there are really two options: a 135-day plan that builds the story and logistics in cooperation with the new-CEO and involves a combination of scene-setting, content generation, data presentation and event logistics, and a 90-day plan that needs to be prepared as a template into which the new CEO’s background and narrative can be slotted into. 

Developing and Implementing a 135-Day Plan: 

Pre-set a 135-day plan that assumes you’ll have advance notification, with the first 45 days focusing on building a relationship with the new CEO, collecting fresh organizational insights and debugging anticipated logistical issues 

Insights


  • Small-sample qualitative research

A good place to start, if possible, is collecting responses to two questions - what are the three top priorities facing the organizations and what are the three most important things you are working on in your jobs - questions which track overall awareness and alignment with organizational objectives, and the extent to which their own actions align with those objectives. 

  • C-team interviews 

Building on the same questions, getting a sense of C-team alignment and potentially more deeper probing of specific opportunities and challenges

  • Enterprise search trends  

Analyzing enterprise search terms is one of the great ways to get insightful data without surveys and interviews. Tracking top search terms daily or weekly can provide useful insights about employee concerns, and the data also yields key insights about the new trends that are emerging and the old trends that are fading in importance. 

Content 


  • Official announcement and bio 

These are not only vital sources of information, they also set the stage and tone for the new leader’s reign.  Whether the approach is formal, traditional and written, or more dynamic and using multiple media, will send a quick and clear message about the changes in style and substance to come.

  • Develop CEO messages 

With the benefit of insights gathered from leaders, the incoming CEO, and from a cross-section of employees, there is an opportunity to use the CEO launch as a bridge from current reality towards the future the new CEO and his/her tenure would present.   

  • Build an editorial calendar within an editorial calendar 

Having a “calendar within a calendar” allows you to plan dedicated content to support the CEO launch directly, and also to adjust and integrate existing channels so that they reflect CEO messaging and any broader changes that are set to begin as the new CEO starts work.

Logistics 

On the logistics side, the most important task is to identify a dedicated and reliable funding source, so that there are no hiccups in preparation or execution. 

The second most important task, if it’s achievable, is to identify a “logistics czar” - whose focus will be on ensuring seamless execution of all introductory activities.  

Ideally, the logistics czar should be someone other than you - as it can be extremely difficult to juggle strategic messaging and vision on the one hand, and remembering to make sure that the lunches for the CFO need to be vegan and gluten-free and that the new CEO hates to make connections at Heathrow.  

If a logistics czar is out of the question, it’s crucial that qualified pros are available to handle production for local or online events and to offload as much of the logistical piece to them as possible.  

  • Being prepared for a 90-day sprint 

In the event that your organisation doesn’t have a history of giving communication pros much warning of major changes, your best approach to preparation is to build yourself a new-CEO introduction toolkit that you can activate at a moment’s notice. 

Such a toolkit would include: 

  • Setting an introduction budget and identifying the process for securing those resources that immediately 
  • Prepare templates 
  • Online announcement 
  • Day 1 run of show (assuming you hear even slightly before the actual day 1) 
  • Roadshow itinerary and activities 
  • Prepare key insights and map trends from existing data 
  • Performance measures (profitability, attrition, other known priorities) for 1-3 years previous 
  • Employee engagement scores (overalls and relevant outlier questions) 
  • Content engagement scores (click/open rates overall and connected with specific subjects) 
  • Propose a small-sample “two question survey” for the end of the 90-day introduction period to use as a baseline for future communication activities 
  • What are the top three priorities facing the business 
  • What are the three most important things you are working on in your job 

While being activated to drive a 90-day CEO introduction with no warning is indicative of a dismissive approach to internal communication, a well-considered and well-executed 90-day plan could grab the attention of the new leader, building confidence and respect, and, ideally, receptiveness for requests for sufficient resources and remit to become more insightful, strategic and resilient. 

Inserting the small-sample research at the end of the process sets the stage for the follow-up conversation to become more strategic and insight driven.  By illustrating the extent to which the new CEO messages are being internalized or ignored following substantial communication efforts, the CEO gets drawn into the conversation about how communication could help reinforce trends toward alignment and progress - or help correct misalignment and address issues of town and ownership. 

 

In Closing 

Preparing well for a CEO introduction opens up two main opportunities for communication leaders in an organization: presenting themselves as logistically competent and strategically insightful. Ideally, if you are able to prepare well on both sides of this spectrum, you can position yourself very quickly as a “trusted advisor” and build a relationship over the course of the new leader’s tenure.  


 

What’s Next:    



  

 

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