Boards Best Practices in Onboarding a New CEO

It’s generally accepted that a board of directors’ main responsibility is to hire and fire its CEO.

The best boards go one step further and take an active role in acquiring, accommodating, assimilating, and accelerating new CEOs. The prerequisite to successful onboarding is getting everyone aligned around expectations before talking to any candidates. 40% of new leaders fail in their first 18 months. Onboarding new CEOs well and reducing that failure rate is one of the highest value creating activities for any board.

Best practices across the steps based on work I did with Mary Vonnegut


Start by stopping to reconfirm your organization’s purpose, priorities and desired results. Think through what went well and less well when you onboarded other CEOs or senior leaders in the past. Map out clear, simple messages about this onboarding to stakeholders and potential new CEOs. Pull them all together in a recruiting brief and onboarding plan. Investment of time here makes everything else more effective and efficient.


Assemble a deep slate of strong candidates all at the same time. With options, you won’t feel you have to close the sale with your lead candidate if it’s not 100% right for everyone.

While candidates can focus on getting the offer, and then take a step back to evaluate the opportunity, you have to buy and sell at the same time. So treat the offer as just one part of a strategic sale. The way you handle the offer and support your potential new CEO’s due diligence efforts will impact the way he or she feels about you and your organization, with implications far beyond whether the answer is “yes” or “no.” You want them to say yes if taking the job is the right move for them. their supporters, and the organization over time. You want a “no, thanks” if it’s not.

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