Ensuring Your Company Survives the Transition to a New Senior Leader

We’ve all read the stories of the new CEO stepping into a strong company culture. The good CEOs express various concerns around wanting to preserve what is strong in the culture and company, etc.

Now think how much higher the pressure would be if you were the daughter of the company founder, coming in as CEO into an organization in which both of your parents as well as your uncle would be among your employees?

That’s the situation Cathy Choi found herself in when she stepped into the role of president of Bulbrite, as reported in The New York Times “Corner Office” column.

1. Build a culture based on allegiance to the company, not the person

As the company grew and transitioned leadership from her father to herself, Ms. Choi needed to ensure employees were also able to transition their loyalty from her father. Wisely, she realized the potential to recreate the same problem by transferring loyalty to herself. Instead, she wanted employees to be loyal to the organization, the team as a whole, and the brand promise. Some would argue this is a problem for small businesses. I disagree. We only have to look to hero CEOs like Richard Branson, Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs for examples.

No one can continue as CEO forever. The question becomes, how do strong leaders make this transition and not create a situation that can cut down a strong culture. Ms. Choi offers strong suggestions.

2. Create core values based on the core values of the employees

As part of her effort to create a company culture employees would want to be loyal to and engage in, Ms. Choi worked with them to create core values. Her approach differed from most, however, in that she first asked what people enjoyed doing when not at work and why.

That last – the “why” – is most critical as it got to the heart of employees’ personal value system. These could then be translated into corporate values that made sense for Bulbrite.

3. Define behaviors that support the value system

Like many companies, one of the values for Bulbrite became “Integrity.” This is a strong value and certainly one that is important. But unless behaviors that define what “integrity” looks like in the daily work, any organization with that value runs the risk of becoming the next Enron.

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Ms. Choi avoided this by also clearly defining what behaviors employees should demonstrate in their daily work.

4. Hire, manage and recognize according to those values

Once you’ve gone to all that work, you must be willing to hire, fire, manage and recognize according to those values. If you’re diligent, someone whose personal value system doesn’t align simply won’t enjoy working in your culture and will self-select out.

Recognizing people for living the values reinforces for everyone the importance of the values and associated behaviors to the organization. Incorporating those values into your performance management system so success is defined around them does the same.

What would your tips to a new president or CEO be?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is senior vice president of client strategy and consulting at Workhuman, where he leads the company’s consulting and analytics divisions. His writing is regularly featured across major HR publications, including HR Magazine, Human Resource Executive, HR Zone, and Workspan.