26 December 2006

Try before you Buy?

Most of us who have been through or witnessed a founder transition would agree that this is no doubt a tricky process fraught with potential disaster at nearly every turn. Yet the process most companies and boards engage in with the potential CEO replacement is one that is set up for failure. And failure is what too often results.

Several interviews with various members of the management team and board, some surface level background and reference checks, discussions with some "insiders" who know what this candidate has done in the past, can never be sufficient to really know whether the most important criterion for successful founder transition will be met. That criterion is the chemistry and relationship that is required between the founder and the newly hired CEO.

While most of the "hard" criteria for founder/CEO transition can be learned using a time tested recruiting and interview process, the "soft" skill compatibility can probably never be really understood without trying it out. In-the-trenches interaction between the potential candidate and the founder and team might actually be the only way to really know if this transition will work.

Any organization that can avail itself of the opportunity to try-before-they-buy should take full advantage of that by engaging the CEO candidate as a consultant in advance of a final hiring decision. While this can be awkward for the candidate (confident and experienced candidates will relish this opportunity) and potentially a delay in the final decision for the recruiter, board and the team, finding out early that this relationship is not going to work is a small price to pay to avoid making a bad decision.

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