What would you do if your CEO were suddenly unable to work? If he or she was stricken and you were unsure when he or she would be able to return, how would you handle it? Do you have a plan?
When Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs became ill, his COO, Timothy Cook was ready to step in to run the company. Is someone able to take charge in your organization?
An emergency preparedness plan is a strategy, a blueprint, designed to address the temporary loss of your CEO. Unlike a succession plan, the emergency preparedness plan deals with a temporary loss, where the CEO is expected to return. Having someone ready ensures that the organization can continue to operate without the crippling effect of a rudderless ship.
Emergency losses put an organization in crisis, so it often takes a different kind of person to take over the reigns during this period. The most successful individual, who can take charge quickly, is usually one who is:
- Cool under pressure
- Clear, logical thinker
- Excellent communicator, and
- Knowledgeable about where everything is in the organization and how it runs.
The person who takes over during an emergency may be different than the one who would succeed the CEO on a permanent basis. In fact, in some situations, more than one person could be put in charge. Most recently, I designed a plan where two senior managers would take over because the executive vice president, who has been designated to succeed the President when he retires, will not be ready for another 2 to 3 years.
So how do you develop a plan?
- Identify the key criteria for your interim leadership. Establish the 4 to 5 criteria and traits that your successful interim CEO should possess.
- Evaluate your internal pool of candidates. Who internally could do it? Do they meet your criteria? The best person in a crisis is not necessarily the best person to permanently succeed. As I noted in the example above, after we evaluated the candidates in my client’s firm, we determined that the person who was first in line for succession, was not ready for an immediate crisis.
- Consider what you’d do on a short-term and long-term basis. Losing your CEO for 9 months has a different impact than a loss of 30 days.
- Establish clear chain of command. You do not want anyone wondering who is in charge and who has authority to make decisions.
- Clearly define roles. This includes both your management team and your board of directors.
- Define levels of authority. Who can sign checks, enter into contracts, make large capital expenditures, etc.?
- Have in place mechanisms to communicate. During the immediate crisis and after, lines of communication is essential. Put in place a plan to communicate with staff, the Board, customers and vendors, funding sources, stockholders and the community.
- Establish an information and contact inventory. You want to be able to quickly access key information, allowing you to move quickly.
- Institute a return to work process to determine when your CEO will be able to return and under what circumstances. As an example, if the CEO originally went out for health reasons, you will want to include medical in this process.
Put your plan in place well before a crisis occurs. Having one will ensure the orderly transition of leadership with minimal impact on your business operations.