How to Onboard a New CEO in 91 Days

With a 1-in-4 chance your organization will hire a new CEO this year, the big question is – Will you be ready?

Remember HP’s Léo Apotheker, Time Inc.’s Jack Griffin and Mozilla’s Brendan Eich? Each lasted less than a year in their new CEO positions – 11 months, five months and nine days, respectively. Each fell victim to their poor communication efforts and lack of a roadmap of whom to speak with, when and on what subjects. Sure, these guys poked some big holes in their own rafts, but the lack of an established onboarding communication plan facilitated them drifting into deep and uncharted waters.

There’s probably no more important assignment for corporate communication professionals than managing the onboarding of a new CEO. With their unique skillset, experience, and resources, the corporate communicator has the ability to focus internally and externally in terms of messaging and constituency; can move between and within every organizational department; and typically has a holistic appreciation for the company’s dynamics and cultural environment. Done correctly and with forethought, a successful CEO onboarding can mean the difference between success and disaster – for the CEO, the communicator and communications function, and the company as a whole.

Take every challenge inherent in running a large company in this country and triple them – that’s what a CEO in the healthcare industry faces today, including shifting and uncertain regulations; new pricing and reimbursement models; contentious payor and provider relationships; technological advances and resistance to adoption and adaptation; and a more demanding and discerning patient base. It’s no wonder the healthcare industry has the highest CEO turnover rate in the U.S. – hitting a six-year high in 2014, with more than 1,300 resignations, retirements and force-outs. According to the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), CEO turnover reached more 20 percent in 2013 – the highest rate since ACHE started tracking it in 1981. (New figures are due out in June and are expected to be even higher for 2014.)

If those challenges aren’t daunting enough, realize that today’s new healthcare CEO may know little or nothing about healthcare. In 2013, only one-in-three hospital CEOs hired came from another hospital or health system. The numbers are just as high for non-clinical healthcare and health services companies. The reason – today’s boards are set on hiring leaders with financial experience over healthcare expertise. The result – communication teams must educate new CEOs not just on the organizational culture, but also the unique dynamics of today’s healthcare industry.

How & When to Start?

Let’s tackle “when” first. The best time to start planning for the transition and CEO onboarding, is 30-days prior to their arrival, or what is commonly called “Day 1.” This 30-day run-up provides an opportunity to work with those who will become the CEO’s closest confidants, including the leadership team, board, human resources, and the internal risk management and legal teams, to set expectations. Understanding expectations that have been established and agreed-upon between these confidants and the new leader will help in the building of an effective and realistic communication plan.

“How” to build a successful plan starts with knowing what currently works, who the key audiences are and what gaps might exist. The first 30 days of such a plan should include:

  • Leveraging existing communications channels to assist in a seamless transition between the interim CEO and the new CEO, and creating new channels as needed.
  • Establishing an internal communications campaign that introduces the CEO to all employees.
  • Creating an external introduction program that fosters rapport and trust between the new CEO and core stakeholders.
  • Strengthening internal communication lines with the new CEO by maintaining interactions and ongoing communication with employees.

The way things start is the way things go, and getting a 30-day head start before the new CEO crosses the threshold will pay dividends and further ensure a successful onboarding.

To learn more, download, Onboarding your New Healthcare CEO: A Healthcare Communicator’s Guide to the First 91 Days.

March 25, 2015
There's a one-in-four chance your organization will hire a new CEO this year. Will you be ready?
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