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5.2 Succession Planning Is an Ongoing Process

Effective boards view succession planning as an ongoing activity that is integrated into the broader process of regularly thinking about the firm’s evolving strategy and emerging competitive threats and identifying the skills top executives need to execute that strategy. They know which value-creating activities the firm has chosen as the cornerstone to developing a competitive advantage and what skills a CEO needs to implement them effectively. They are not caught off guard when a new chief executive must be selected because, as a matter of principle, they never stop thinking about CEO succession.

Reaching this level of performance is extremely difficult. Large companies perform literally hundreds of interrelated, value-creating activities, making it difficult for even the best boards to clearly understand how these many activities create value and what a CEO can do to affect the success with which they are carried out. To get there, boards must develop better means for systematically obtaining relevant, specific information about how the company creates value. In many firms, their principal source of information is a thick binder of market data and analysts’ reports that is distributed 2 weeks before the next board meeting. How many directors have the time or inclination to comb through these binders? How do such masses of ill-digested information help them understand the value-creation process?Khurana, Rakesh, and Cohn (2003, Spring).

An effective succession-planning process does not end with the selection of a new CEO. The board must be ready to coach the candidate it chooses, especially in the first months, and it has to agree on how it will evaluate the CEO going forward. Unfortunately, this rarely happens. More than half of the boards surveyed say they have little or no formal process for evaluating the performance of their CEOs, despite the huge responsibility entrusted to them. Worse, those who do often focus on short-term, easily measured business goals and give little attention to longer term objectives or metrics, such as the ability to lead people and manage stakeholders or professional ethics. This short-term bias is clearly evident when it comes to CEO compensation: Short-term factors continue to dominate the decision process and compensation formulas.Felton and Fritz (2005).