Many, perhaps most, transit board members and CEOs see succession planning as a negative process that boards get involved in when their relationship with their CEO is frayed or even totally broken. But in my experience, developing a CEO succession plan isn’t just a very positive process, it’s also part of the imprint – the legacy – that that a really board-savvy transit CEO will want to leave in her authority. CEO succession planning, which a recent report of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City defines as “a structured process to ensure leadership continuity,” should deal with at least the following elements:
- The identification of the CEO’s duties and responsibilities that will need to be carried out in the interim if the position is vacant.
- Specification of how the CEO’s duties and responsibilities will be handled before the position is permanently filled: by an interim CEO or by a number of executive team members.
- The timetable for filling the CEO position
- An updated CEO job description based on an assessment of the current and future leadership needs of the authority.
- And a detailed description of the process that will be employed for identifying, recruiting, interviewing and selecting the new CEO.
Since selecting a new CEO is one of the preeminent responsibilities of a transit board and arguably the highest-stakes decision that any board can make, it is critical that board members be intensively involved from the get-go. Experience has taught me that holding a full board half-day work session is a very effective way to kick off the succession planning process. Board members can brainstorm the major issues (both challenges and opportunities) that the new CEO is likely to face and the CEO attributes and qualifications required to deal with the issues. Armed with this information, the board’s governance (or executive) committee should take the lead in putting together the detailed succession plan, which the full board should review and formally adopt.
And, of course, the guy or gal currently sitting in the CEO’s seat should be a full participant in the succession planning process. Indeed, I recommend that every CEO should take the lead in convincing his or her board to develop a succession plan now – when all is going well and the board-CEO working relationship is essentially healthy. Not only will having a well-designed plan in place in your authority avoid the stress and strain that putting a plan together when you’re already on your way out will inevitably cause, it will also communicate to your board that you care deeply for the authority’s welfare beyond your tenure and that you are self-confident and secure enough to play a leading role in planning for your eventual successor.