I’ve stored up quite a few governance articles to share with you this year and I thought I’d start with one I’ve recently read on conducting an exit interview with a departing CEO. This material is drawn from an excellent BoardSource publication.
My key take-out from the article is attributed to Everett Spain and Boris Graysberg of the Harvard Business Review:
In today’s knowledge economy, skilled employees are the asset that drives organisational success. Thus, companies (and non-profits) must learn from them – why they stay, why they leave, and how the organisation needs to change. A thoughtful exit-interview process can create a constant flow of feedback on all three fronts.
Here are the comments I took out of the article:
Exit interviews are an important way to help non-profit boards understand how to attract, support, and retain successful talented leaders.
An exit interview allows the board to learn about its own performance and its role as the partner to the organisation’s leader. By asking questions related to how it supported the outgoing chief executive, the board will learn what resources or tools the chief executive had – or didn’t have – to successfully lead the organisation, and then be able to use that knowledge to address any identified gaps going forward.
It’s important when crafting the chief executive’s exit interview questions that board members develop a general framework to ensure that they receive the most important information for the organisation and its incoming leader. While the framing will vary depending on a nonprofit’s current environment, most boards want to ensure that its exit interview questions address these big-picture issues:
˃ What priorities will the next chief executive need to understand about the organisation’s strategy and current priorities?
˃ What are the biggest challenges facing our organisation? And what might we currently not know about?
˃ Are there any immediate accomplishments that will be expected in the first 30,60 and 90 days?
˃ Are there any resource challenges – human or financial?
It’s critical to have the right person conduct the exit interview. It could be the chair but the chair might be ‘too close’ to the chief executive to be impartial or unbiased, so it could ab a couple of board members – but definitely no one from the staff!
To get the most out of an exit interview, collect information and insights in these key areas: overall job satisfaction, reason or reasons for leaving, the board’s performance and its partnership with the chief executive, compensation and benefits package, job expectations and responsibilities, the organisation’s current and future opportunities and challenges, and anything else the board needs to know to choose; prepare; and support the incoming chief executive and the organisation.
For an exit interview to be an effective tool for transitioning from one leader to another, the information and notes collected from the interview should be thoroughly reviewed and used as a means to educate not only the board but to orient the incoming chief executive. The exit interview should be analysed to uncover any potential underlying themes, challenges, or successes the board and senior leadership team may not have been previously aware of. This type of feedback can be translated into an executive summary and shred with the full board. The collective board can then decide what it may wish to change about its own performance or processes to best support the incoming chief executive.
The article gives a rather fulsome list of interview questions so I have chosen a few and if you’d like more please email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Accomplishments, responsibilities, and job satisfaction
˃ What accomplishments are you most proud of during your time as chief executive?
˃ What led you to originally accept the position of chief executive?
˃ What, if anything do you wish you had known before you took the job of chief executive?
˃ What do you suggest we do or stop doing to make our organisation a better place to work?
Onboarding, expectations, and compensation
˃ did you have clear goals, objectives, and expectations that well equipped you to do your job?
˃ Were you happy with your relationship with the board, and, specifically, the board chair? What can the board do to improve its role as a strategic partner to the chief executive?
Board performance and partnerships
˃ How does the current board add value to the organisation?
˃ What areas of governance or board operations are in need of attention or improvement to set the next chief executive up for success?
Organisation’s strategies and internal operations
˃ What are the core values, beliefs, or assumptions about how the organisation operates that will be important for the incoming chief executive to understand?
˃ What are the big issues facing the organisation that will likely consume the time of the incoming chief executive?
˃ What are the key drivers of change in the external and internal environment that the board should expect the next chief executive to help it tackle?
˃ What skills or expertise do you think the incoming chief executive will need to be successful in this position?
˃ What additional advice would you want to share with the incoming chief executive?
˃ Why have you decided to leave the organisation?
˃ What does your new organisation and position offer that led you to accept the position?
˃ What, if anything, could’ve been done to prevent your departure?