As a new CEO, you can’t do it all alone. While you might have the authority to make the company’s strategic decisions, you will never have all the information you need to make them nor the time required to implement them. That’s why one of your first jobs should be to select your senior team—and to do it well. As one participant in our CEO study observed, “You can never have too good of a team. Upgrading the talent makes a magnitude of change in the organization. You probably never have a team as good as you think you have, and you can always improve your team.”

CEOs we spoke with agreed: It pays to assemble your team fast. One CEO told us of his hundred-day rule of evaluating talent on the senior team within that time period, and making the necessary adjustments. Another CEO advised: “Make your key hires early on. I brought in a communications person and a new HR lead and they continue to be key to the new culture we are creating here.” A third told us: “I regret not acting on personnel issues more quickly. I found myself facing problematic performance and behavior in some staff. I allowed it to continue longer than I should have.”

In some cases, personnel decisions will not be easy to make. As one executive recounted, “I learned the difficult task of dealing with an incumbent leader in the organization that I had grown up with during my career. The CFO was not what the business needed, but he had been with the organization for thirty-two years and had been my boss. I replaced him four years into my tenure. I should have done it two years earlier.”

We asked executives for specific recommendations for how an incoming CEO can best select and evaluate a senior team. Highlights from their responses included:

  • Describe in writing the competencies, values, and behaviors you want from people on your team.
  • Develop informal processes for systematically evaluating team members.
  • Draw on your predecessor for information about team members. If possible, schedule time to review team members together.
  • Assess people objectively. Consider your desired competencies and behaviors, and determine whether each individual’s behavior conforms to the vision and values you’re setting for the company going forward.
  • If you bring in senior talent from the outside, be sure to set them up for success. Help others on the senior team understand why you’re not filling specific roles from within.

The executives we spoke with didn’t mince words: People matter, especially those with whom you must directly interface. You need to get the very best out of your team, so be diligent and focused, and don’t hesitate to make the tough calls. One CEO put it bluntly: “If you are not going to face into and deal with the people issues, I’d say you have no business saying ‘yes’ to the CEO job.” 

More on the CEO study can be found in the book Preparing CEOs For Success “What I Wish I Knew”. For more information, visit the CLG Bookstore.

And, for more information about CLG Executive Advisors and the value they bring to CEOs and c-suite executives on issues such as leadership, strategy execution, succession, new leader transition, change implementation, and teamwork among senior teams visit the CLG Executive Advisor section of the website.