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This is in response to A Delicate Dialogue.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011
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First of all, your comment that this subject is not a matter of tools and forms is very accurate and sound advice. We tend to spend far too much time and effort on them, instead of the more substantive issues involved.

Acknowledging that the conversation is a very difficult one for both the CEO and CHRO is a good first step. Recognizing that, how the CHRO approaches the subject will dictate whether or not the conversation will be a successful one. The advice you provide in your four points is excellent.

However, my experience suggests that the conversation can be greatly facilitated by having the CHRO prepare a list of questions that the Board might ask the CEO and using those questions as the basis for the "delicate dialogue."

Such questions should help the CEO think through the entire matter and, hopefully, provide him/her with some insights that were not previously considered or not given appropriate emphasis.

Such questions, among many others, might include:

1. Does the corporate business strategy of the potential CEO replacement candidate(s) align with the current corporate business strategy of the Board? Outline exactly how they are different and the extent to which that difference would impact current and future business plans and stock performance?

2. If the Board has other viable corporate business strategies, those must be examined as well in relation to the potential CEO replacement candidates. Consider how likely each strategy is of being implemented, in part or in full.

3. Does the potential CEO replacement candidate(s) possess any new or different ideas regarding the corporate business strategy that would embellish it and change any current or future business plans?

4. What is the specific business acumen background of each candidate regarding business strategy, finance, product/market knowledge, legal matters, P & L performance, that is best suited to the corporate business strategy or strategies?

5. Does the potential CEO replacement candidate(s) have the respect of the various members of the Board?

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6. Does the potential CEO replacement candidate(s) possess the respect of the top management team and would the members of that team support and follow him/her in the implementation of the corporate business strategy?

Such a discussion can only occur if the CEO respects the CHRO from a business perspective that is exemplified solely by his/her knowledge of the possible answers to the above questions. If that respect exists, the CHRO can help the CEO frame some answers to those and other viable questions. With those answers in mind, the CEO can then be fully prepared to discuss the matter with the Board.

Jack Bucalo

Retired CHRO 
Fiserv Inc., a Fortune 500 company

Sue responds:

Thanks so much for your comments. I couldn't agree more with your suggestion of a list of questions to help guide the conversation. 

Indeed, I think there's lots more guidance I'd offer around this conversation, but with limited space I wanted to simply remind HR executives that it can sometimes be an awkward conversation but it's one that must be had.

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