Throughout her career, Lynn Sargi, the Director of Human Resources at the County of Summit Developmental Disabilities Board, has lived and learned through two CEO transitions, and is at the threshold of her third. The DD Board, recognizing Lynn’s experience with leadership transitions, has charged her with supporting and guiding them through the search and selection process for the next CEO.
Lynn’s three CEO transitions have occurred relatively recently. She worked for her first CEO, who she greatly admired, for 17 years before he retired. After the board selected his successor Lynn remained with the organization for an additional three years before joining an agency in 2006 that would soon embark on a similar experience – the search for a successor for a long-time, well-respected leader. She joined Summit DD in 2011 and its Superintendent announced his intention to retire last month.
Lynn, based on her experience, categorizes a CEO transition into three phases. First, is the period leading up to a retirement announcement, a time of uncertainty and anticipation for staff. Second, the actual search and selection process which is often driven by speculation and excitement, and finally the onboarding process for a new leader, a period of acceptance, adaptation and adjustment.
As Lynn approaches her third CEO transition, she is reflecting on lessons learned to help guide her upcoming work. First, it is critical for the board to focus on the leadership skills that will be required to successfully steer the organization into the future. Second, it is important to skillfully handle internal candidates, especially if not selected, since executive leadership continuity can be critical to a smooth transition. Third, if the board wants staff to be involved in the process, it should clearly articulate staffs’ role. And finally, it is helpful for the board to assist the new CEO and his/her staff with the onboarding and orientation process, especially if the person selected is new to the field or is unfamiliar with the community.
And Lynn is looking forward to continued learnings, especially as it relates to the need for and impact of a strategic plan. The CEO and board at her first employer chose not to initiate an updated strategic plan before his retirement thereby allowing the new CEO to shape it. The CEO and board at her second employer had a plan in place to guide its new leader, although the new CEO chose to set her own course. Summit DD just adopted a new long-range plan intended to ease the transition, and only time will tell its influence on the next CEO.
In Lynn’s opinion, the most significant changes resulting from a CEO transition are cultural. She reflected on one personal experience. The outgoing CEO at her first employer ensured throughout his tenure that the Board and staff were guided by a well thought-out strategic plan. The new CEO preferred a much more entrepreneurial approach that resulted in more trial and error and less direction — frustrating some staff that were accustomed to working within an aligned and agreed-upon framework.
Lynn was a long-term senior staff member who had to adapt to a significant cultural change introduced by her company’s new leader during her first leadership transition. From there she went on to assist an agency where many of its senior leadership team had worked for decades for the same leader and were experiencing similar emotions to what Lynn had done a few years back. And now in her current role of helping Summit DD plan and execute a sophisticated process to identify its next leader, Lynn is well on her way to ensuring the continued success of the County of Summit Developmental Disabilities Board.