The Quest for CEO Successor Assessments


Less than a year ago I wrote about the results of our HR@Moore Survey of CHRO results indicating a frightening lack of assessment processes for CEO successor candidates. Our results indicated that internal candidates were mostly evaluated by their performance profiles, and external candidates by those combined with references. I suggested then that formal assessments, such as personality testing, behavioral interviews, and interviews with licensed psychologists might provide additional relevant information for boards.

Kevin Cox recently hosted a meeting of 20 CHROs for the Center for Executive Succession, and I was surprised at the frustration many of them expressed at a lack of good assessments. A number of them noted the importance of getting good, accurate information on potential successor candidates, and the difficulty in doing so. The frustration seems to stem from two issues.

First, as I mentioned before, senior level executives feel anxiety about formal assessments, and suggest that, given all the information on their past performance, they should not need to go through such processes. Second, they noted that a plethora of assessment techniques exist, but that without strong evidence of their efficacy, they find it difficult to overcome executives’ anxiety about such assessments.

This provides the opportunity for CHROs to make positive contributions to the board as part of the CEO succession process in three ways. First, CHROs must provide the rationale for why assessments are important, a topic for the next blog. Second, they can provide guidance regarding what types of assessments can provide the best information not currently available through the most popular channels. Later blogs will provide some guidance here. Finally, CHROs can help boards gain the backbone to require all candidates to go through the same systematic assessment processes. No one expects executives to WANT to go through such assessments (Lord knows I would not!), but candidates who lack the confidence to go through them should automatically disqualify themselves.