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Be Bold. Take a Stand.


Never Underestimate Court of Public Opinion

October 16, 2009

Q. Our board is going to broom our CEO because he’s not cutting it anymore. Of course, we’ll let him resign to save face. The question is, how do we announce it? Whenever a top official says he/she is resigning “for personal reasons” or “to explore other opportunities,” it sounds so hollow that everybody knows she/he was fired. Is there a way to dress it up, or should we not be concerned?

A: This is a touchy subject for sure and one that is fraught with peril, so prepare an exit plan. As your CEO has served the organization for better or worse for several years, treat him or her fairly; but do commit to making a change. While managing this is not easy, everyone, including the present CEO, will be better off in the long run.

Here are things for the board to consider:

First, make sure you have all your ducks in a row from a human resource perspective. Consult with human resource and legal experts as appropriate.

Second, prepare an exit strategy that includes a timetable and communication plan for all stakeholders of the organization — employees, students, vendors, investors and donors, to name a few. A media strategy is critical, too, because the story will get out and you need to manage it. The communication plan should include a statement from the board to which all board members agree and adhere. This last point is crucial, as a house divided will mean that someone, probably you, will get thrown under the bus of public opinion when objections start flying. Never underestimate the power of public opinion. If your CEO is beloved in the community but underperforming behind the scenes, be prepared for backlash. Discuss the tough questions and write down your answers.

Third, stand firm with your board statement and answers. Do not waver from the script.

Finally, when you meet with the CEO be ready to issue a statement. Discuss how and when the news will be released. Be respectful but firm. Do not delay, as such news travels fast. You want to control the story.

The best scenario for everyone is that the CEO leaves the organization with his or her head held high and references intact.

Break the mold and use a simple straightforward statement such as: “Mr. Jones will be leaving ABC organization on November 1. The board acknowledges his years of service and plans to undertake a search for his replacement immediately. The board wishes Mr. Jones much success in his future endeavors.” No more, no less. 

Need advice? Send your situations to Dome.

Paula Blanchard Stone and Patty McCarthy are partners in McCarthy  Blanchard, an executive training firm specializing in key message development, presentation skills training, media interview training and executive presence. Copyright © 2008 McCarthy Blanchard. | Website

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