Disruption in C-suite succession:

what’s changing and how to succeed now


Published on: October 2021

Written by: Sarah Woods

C-suite succession is rising to the top of the agenda for many Boards and executive leadership teams, as the tenure for CEOs continues to grow shorter.

Even before the pandemic, the failure rate of new C-suite placements was increasing and costing companies millions of dollars. As we’re moving into the latter half of 2021 and 2022, we already see an upward trend in C-level transitions.

The Boards and CEOS we work with know that they need to get these highly visibly changes right. The risks are higher than ever as we continue to navigate Covid and back to office/hybrid work decisions, while looking for leaders who can deliver growth and energize a diverse work force.

The good news is that despite these odds, there are important lessons to be learned about how to avoid missteps. We recently convened a conversation with senior HR and executive leaders to share those insights and advance our understanding of how to help Boards and C-suite leaders get it right. The following highlights should help you start the conversation in your own company.

Sharing an expert perspective

I was delighted to have the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion with Karen S. Carter, Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Inclusion Officer, Dow, and Board Director, Southwire and Lynn Dugle, Board Director, Avantus Federal, Micron, TE Connectivity and KBR, and former Board Director. These leaders shared a view on where C-Suite succession goes wrong, how to do it right, how to work with the board and the CEO to make CEO succession a company’s strength.

Key highlights

Several important themes and priorities emerged from the conversation:

  • Change: Disruption will continue to impact markets, workforce planning, health policy and leadership. Change is happening at an increasingly rapid rate, and how we select and prepare C-suite leaders needs to change with it. What worked before won’t work anymore.
  • Diversity: The need for diverse C-suites – and for the Boards that work with them – is an imperative that requires a comprehensive strategy to include building a deeper bench of diverse candidates and greater diversity at the board level.
  • Partnership: The CHRO is on the front lines of leading succession strategy. A close partnership between the CEO and the CHRO is critical to the succession process, and in intervening to ensure diversity is consistently sought, encouraged, and supported starting with selection and following through to development, stretch assignments and support.
  • Leadership behaviors: The cost of poor leadership is felt in the “Great Resignation” of 2021. Talented employees are voting with their feet and leaving even those companies that are performing well. Leader behavior is how culture is felt and should be front and center in the succession conversation.
  • Transparency about the role: Not every successful executive is a willing candidate for promotion. C-suite roles are all-consuming and it’s important to have transparent conversations with those in the pipeline to make sure they really understand – and really want – the job to make sure the right people make it into the roles.

To learn more, read the transcript and download the recording from our Roundtable entitled Leading the Way for C-Suite Succession: How HR Leaders Can Help the Board and the CEO Succeed, please click here.

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