CEO Reviews: Helping the Boss Get Better

CEO Reviews: Helping the Boss Get BetterZoom inDownload PDF

Boards should show a firm grasp of five key elements of successful CEO reviews.

The annual performance review. Many boards don’t take full advantage of them as a leadership- development mechanism for the CEO. But CEOs are no different from other employees: they need honest, direct and timely feedback. In the CEO’s case, getting unfiltered feedback from most people can be especially tricky, so a rigorous review by the board matters all the more.

At the start of the year, directors should establish a structured review process that
sets CEO performance expectations. At the end, they can use the structure to evaluate the CEO’s performance in handling both planned and unexpected issues.

They can also leverage the structure to guide the CEO in becoming a better leader. The review provides the right venue to help the CEO to acquire new skills and knowledge — and to get advice on topics in which he or she is weak or unacquainted.

For directors, the reviews are not just a means to check an administrative box or demonstrate good governance practices. They can genuinely contribute to improving company performance. For new CEOs, they provide a chance for the boss to get off on the right foot. For long-tenured CEOs, the reviews can allow the board to launch or continue a constructive dialogue.

Consider the case of a brand new CEO who took his post upon the departure of a roundly admired predecessor. He couldn’t possibly fill the veteran’s shoes. So he sought feedback and development suggestions from his board. Although he was a guru of operations and finance, his previous experience didn’t cover all that a seasoned CEO needs to master. Especially important for him were relationship- management skills with stakeholders. Like most new CEOs, he had previously had limited exposure to stakeholders such as investors, government officials/legislators, and the board itself.

This CEO was fortunate in that his board showed a firm grasp of five key elements of successful CEO reviews:

Boards can easily lose focus on the CEO review process when the company enjoys many successful years. They may also lose focus when the CEO seems to have firm control on the right direction. But good times are not the time to let reviews fall by the wayside. It is then when directors want to establish a strong and consistent process that will work well when performance takes a downturn.

This article by Blair Jones and Seamus O’Toole originally appeared in Directors & Boards (First Quarter 2015).