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Hi folks,

This month we are going to review the roles and responsibilities surrounding CEO succession planning. In this article we will review the process from the view of expectations from the board, from the outgoing CEO, and the incoming CEO. The goal is to lay the foundation for a series of articles based on these roles and responsibilities.

The advanced coaching workshop in October was a great success. The pilot session revealed some ways to enhance participants' experience. These have been incorporated, and a second session has been scheduled for May 4-9, 2014. It has been opened to include experienced coaches with a strong gestalt, "use of self" ontological background. Executive and life coaches will find it useful.

If you enjoy this newsletter, please pass it on.


Herb Stevenson

Herb Stevenson, CEO/President
Cleveland Consulting Group

Succession Plan Forward

Herb Stevenson, CEO
Cleveland Consulting Group, Inc.
August 2013

"In a joint RHR International/Chief Executive magazine study of 236 corporate directors, 95 percent of respondents acknowledged that CEO succession is a critical business continuity issue. Nevertheless, more than half (53 percent) rated themselves as "ineffective" in executing their responsibilities in the CEO succession process."1

Basic Steps to Take

There are a myriad of books on the basic steps of succession planning. My experience correlates with the following breakdown of three categories: (1) Board Responsibilities, (2) Preparatory Steps, and (3) Final Implementation. Most succession plans within these three categories include some variation of the following ten aspects to insure their successful implementation.

Board Responsibility

1. Establish Board Ownership, Involvement and Oversight: Ultimately the board is responsible for the long term well-being of the organization. In family-owned businesses this can become confusing as the boards can vary from an advisory group to a quasi-governing board. Regardless, the duties, responsibilities, authority, and required communications between the board and the CEO and between the board and the succession candidates should be defined as part of the succession planning process. Without it, the organization has no governing body to guide them through the potentially treacherous waters ahead. The worst case scenario is that a succession plan becomes frozen by a CEO that will not leave and will likely have to be terminated in order to move it forward. In such cases, this often leads to a board split and/or a needless blemish on a CEO’s legacy. This can happen in both public and private organizations.

2. Set succession time frames: The board must insure that a time line for the succession plan is created. Without definitive milestones to measure against, confusion will reign over the process at four key points. First, without a time frame to define the process and select candidates, the plan is unlikely to get off the ground until much later than is ideal, probably because of a crisis related to illness, death, or departure. Second, the development phase for the candidates should be sufficiently defined in terms of executive education, stretch assignments, and executive development. This must be shared with the candidates. Third, the retirement date of the CEO must be negotiated and established. A common oversight in several succession plans is failing to provide a transition plan for the CEO. Hence, the CEO remains busy with the business and the succession plan, then suddenly faces an unexpected transition into retirement that can lead to unnecessary conflicts between all parties. Fourth, without implementation of the three prior action steps , the succession candidates have no point reference for when a decision will be made. More importantly, without a firm CEO retirement date, it is highly possible that the candidates will become frustrated and take their talents to another company.

3. Prepare for emergencies: There are many pitfalls in any succession plan. In terms of succession planning, there are three emergencies that will require immediate board attention. (1) Illness to the CEO or candidates, (2) a sudden departure of the CEO or the succession candidates as the transition date approaches, (3) the urgency for the transition speeds up due to the condition of the organization, the inability of the CEO to lead, and/or it is revealed that the successors will not meet the needs of the organization. Generally, boards do not prepare for such events until the actual crisis occurs. This results in a rudderless organization during a critical time. At a minimum, the board should have a contingency plan to share with the organization and all stakeholders.

Preparatory Steps

4. Align strategy and profile: The board needs to vet the candidates prior to starting the plan and then provide guidance and feedback throughout the development and evaluation process. Clear alignment with the board in terms of strategy and direction of the organization should be part of the ongoing evaluation. Critical success factors should be defined in terms of what is expected from each candidate. A formal feedback process should be developed and enacted picture of the anticipated roles, responsibilities, authority, and communication that they seek from the candidates. These will need to be communicated multiple times as it is rare that the candidates make the same meaning of these guidelines as the board. It requires time and repetition to get in sync with each other.

5. Build a talent pipeline: The board needs to have established a talent pipeline that runs two to three levels deep into the organization. It is much better to look at succession planning as an ongoing process for all leadership positions than to focus exclusively on the CEO. Smaller organizations tend to miss this opportunity to insure the future is secure with leadership prospects.

It will behoove the board to join the organization’s HR/talent executive to fully define the purpose, operating principles and driving values to ensure that the pipeline grooms leaders for moving up the ladder while providing clear indicators when each person has reached their top rung on the ladder.

6. Source external talent and manage search firms: If there are no internal candidates for the CEO succession, then the board will need to seek external candidates. Determining the level of involvement in the search process as well as in defining the expectation of the search firm should never be delegated. The board must have at least one member directly involved in the process. Some boards manage the search process completely through a search committee. Others form an ad hoc relationship with the HR executives. Regardless of the structure, the board should maintain ultimate control of the process.

Final Implementation

7. Select the CEO: The board is ultimately responsible for the selection of the new CEO. In family-owned businesses, the board may not have such authority but needs to significantly participate in the process including providing wise counsel to the family.

A critical aspect of board involvement is to create a clear description of the expectations both by the board for the outgoing CEO and for the new CEO coming onboard. It can be in the form fully defining what each expects. Interestingly, many smaller firms do not complete this process and later have massive explosions that were unnecessary and could have been avoided had more definition been provided and negotiation occurred in the beginning.

8. Proactively manage the transition: As the success time frame described above provides a chronological road map, the transition has three processes that require specific attention: The outgoing CEO transition as a moving process that must meet specific milestones to transfer duties and authority; the incoming CEO transition as a process moving from one organization to another; and the new CEO as a process to create an understanding of the organization and to begin to have an impact of the strategy and direction of the organization. Failure to manage any of these three transitions could be fatal to the succession process.

9. Measure performance and improve progress: As noted above, the board needs to stay involved and provide feedback on the critical success factor. Often the focus is only on the performance and progress of the candidates. However, a major pitfall is to not measure the outgoing CEO’s performance and to require improvement in the transition progress.

10. Manage the dynamics in CEO succession: Throughout the succession process, the board must assess the interpersonal dynamics between the outgoing and incoming CEO. The peacemaker must be the board as power dynamics can become quite irrational as the incoming CEO wants the reins and the outgoing CEO may not want to let go. In such situations, a power play can evolve that disrupts the entire organization as two leaders in disagreement stalemates the organization until fully resolved.


CEO succession planning is fraught with pitfalls. These can easily be managed if companies take the time to negotiate through each of the ten steps described above. In the next issue we begin to address the coaches role in the succession process.



1 Thomas J. Saporito, Ten Key Dimensions of Effective CEO Succession, Ivey Business Journal, January/ February 2013, 1-4


Succession Planning

Dierickx, Constance, and Juleen Veneziano, Three Keys to CEO Succession: Expectations, Choices, and Integration, People & Strategy, RHR International, Vol 31-2, 36-43.

Favaro, Ken, Per-Ola Karlsson, & Gary L. Neilson, CEO Succession 2000-2009: A Decade of Convergence and Compression. Strategy & Business, Booz & Co, Issue 59, Summer 2010, Reprint 10208.

Freeman, Kenneth W., The CEO’s Real Legacy, HBR, November 2004, Reprint RO411B

Laffley, A. G. The Art & Science of Finding the Right CEO, HBR, Ocober, 2011, Reprint R1110C.

Kets de Vries, Manfred F. R. The Dark Side of CEO Succession, Harvard Business Review, January/February, 1988, 56-60

Nohria, Nitin, William Joyce, and Bruce Robertson. What Really Works, HBR, July 2003, Reprint RO307C.

Saporito, Thomas J. Ten Key Dimensions of Effective CEO Succession, Ivey Business Journal, January/February 2013, 1-4

Saporito, Thomas J. & Paul Winum , (2012) Inside CEO Succession: The Essential Guide to Leadership Transition, Jossey-Bass.

Talent Management

Cappelli, Peter. A Market Driven Approach to Retaining Talent, HBR, January-February, 2000, 103-111 Reprint ROO102

Cappelli, Peter. Talent Management for the 21st Century, HBR, March 2008, Reprint RO803E

Guthridge, Matthew, Asmus B. Komm & Emily Lawson., Making Talent A Strategic Priority, McKinsey Quarterly, 2008, No. 1. 49-59.

Somaya, Deepak & Ian O. Williamson, Rethinking the ‘War for Talent’ MIT Sloan Management Review, Summer 2008, Vol. 49, No. 4. 29-34.

Stahl, Gunter K., Ingmar Bjorkman, Elaine Farndale, Shad S, Morris, Jaap Paauwe, Philip Stiles, Jonathan Trevor, & Patrick Wright., Six Principles of Effective Global Talent Management, MIT Sloan Management Review, Winter, 2012, Vol 53, No. 2. 25-32

Executive & Life Coaching:
A Journey into Advanced Skill Building

May 4-9, 2014
Punderson State Park, Cleveland Ohio

Executive & Life Coaching: A Journey into Advanced Skill Building is a “coming- home” experience for those seeking to build upon their existing coaching skills. It is an indepth experience steeped in personal growth through self awareness and professional development through a refinement of your coaching/consulting skills. Though based in gestalt/ontological theory, the core concepts will be “use of self”, “presence” and “paradoxical theory of change” which permeate many coaching philosophies. In addition, we will include a form of peer coaching that is gaining momentum as a leader development process as well as a team development process.


Executive & Life Coaching: A Journey into Advanced Skill Building is an intensive experience that requires a commitment to expand your knowledge and practice. This translates into an extensive manual of original writings from my 30 years of executive coaching and consulting. In addition, supporting articles that influenced the writings will be available to further deepen your practice knowledge. In short, reading to deepen will support your process.

Know-Do Gap

Robert Sutton coined the phrase, the “know-do gap” to explain that to fully embrace new learning it requires increasing the knowledge base (know) and then directly applying it through various practical experiences (do). As such, the workshop will be a mix of learn a little then do a little.

Maximizing Your Experience

Many coaching workshop experiences are viewed as learn a little from the teaching at the workshops and do a lot, with the emphasis on not reading in advance. Attendees are strongly encouraged to complete the readings in advance to maximize the experience by eliminating the Know-Do gap. If you decide to skip the readings until after the workshop, it will reduce your overall experience, but not be a deterrent to your learning.

Foundational Assumptions

We will be working in a field of energy. Hence the field phenomena will constantly impact every one. As we become more present, our capacity to have a refined form of “seeing” the various models will occur. Being open to new ways to perceive is an important aspect of the program.

We also will be impacting each other. Hence, we will be practicing the learn, apply, learn, do, learn, apply aspect of action learning/research. This can cause some discomfort, however its assumed that to learn, we must lean into our discomfort.

Taking Care of You

Each morning there will be the choice to do a walkabout on the beautiful land of the Punderson Park or to do your personal Yoga or to do a quiet reflective time near the lake. It is imperative that you grant yourself the time to rejuvenate while at this workshop. We encourage you to unplug from work if at all possible.


There are several assessments that will need to be completed prior to arriving. The first is a detailed reflective process that will support your understanding of how you are coming into the workshop. If you do the Monday night optional class, it will be an absolute necessity. In addition it will be part of the Sunday night opening of the circle.

You will also be provided information for competing the MBTI Step 2, Form Q, the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Instrument, and the FIRO-Business. These are important as you will use class time to build your individual development plan to be implemented when you return to your practice.

The individual development plan is a reflective tool to increase your application and learning from the workshop. You are encouraged to work on it in the open evenings

Professional Requirements

Participants will be supported by having completed a Gestalt or ontologically based coaching/consulting or therapy certification program or one or more intensive Gestalt or Ontological OD experience(s) that consisted of at least 15 classroom days in length prior to coming to this workshop. Basic gestalt concepts will not be reviewed in this intensive program. If you are unsure, please contact us for clarification or complete the application from which a decision will be made.

Limited Size

To maximize your experience, the class is limited to 16 advanced participants.

Punderson Manor Lodge


Punderson Manor Lodge DiningThe workshop will be at the Punderson State Park near Cleveland in Newbury, OH 44065. It is located on rolling hills overlooking the Punderson Lake with many hiking trails. There is a wonderful restaurant and bar for dining and after-hours enjoyment.

Room Reservations

Rooms have been reserved for this workshop. Please indicate “Coaching Workshop” to get the reduced rate per night for in the Manor. The room rates includes breakfast and lunch for every day. For those wanting time with friends, there are cabins for 2-4 people. Contact Punderson directly at (440) 564-9144.


It is approximately a one-hour trip to Punderson from either the Cleveland Hopkins or the Akron/Canton airports. Rental cars are available at the airports or there is an excellent Limo service. Contact SHIMA LIMOUSINE SERVICE, INC., 7555 Tyler Blvd #12, Mentor OH 44060. Phone: 440-918-6400, Email: I suggest coordinating and sharing rides.


The fee for Executive & Life Coaching: A Journey into Advanced Skill Building including all materials is $2900.00. There is a $400 discount if paid in full by March 1, 2014. Make checks payable and mail with your application to Cleveland Consulting Group, Inc., 9796 Cedar Road, Novelty, Ohio 44072-9747.


Herb Stevenson will facilitate the workshop.

Drinking from the Gestalt Well

Due to the highly talented nature of the participants, we will draw upon each other to deepen the learning.

Course Topics

Pertinent pre-reading can be done by using the link to the website.

Register Now


To keep the world from closing in on you,
do one thing every day that is uncomfortable,
dislike-able or unnerving.

“One must still have chaos in oneself
to be able to give birth
to a dancing star”

Anxiety tests our courage to stand alone,
our courage to be part of a larger whole
such as a family or community or organization,
and the courage to be responsible
to the whole of creation,
including all that is of or on the earth.