Break Glass in Case of Leadership Emergency

Your CEO is unable to perform his/her duty due to an illness, death, or sudden/unplanned departure. What do you do?


Whether you categorize it as crisis management, succession planning, or part of your strategic organizational development, a credit union needs to be able to react to this scenario: Your CEO is unable to perform his/her duty due to an illness, death or sudden/unplanned departure.

There are so many facets to this complicated development – the effects on credit union staff, the effects on credit union members, the circumstances regarding the departure, etc. The last thing any organization wants to do, however, is to improvise their reaction. A key ingredient in any credit union succession plan is this emergency succession component. As these kinds of circumstances can have such deep-reaching implications for organization, outlining this type of emergency plan is often the first exercise in a comprehensive succession planning strategy.

Triage Approach

As part of their Advancing Leadership Institute, DDJMyers CEO, Deedee Myers breaks down an organization's reaction to such an event – dealing with the critical items first.

First business day (8 hours)

  • The board of directors will notify the interim successor that he/she will assume the executive authority as granted to the CEO.
  • Credit union employees will be notified of the change in CEO status. A memo will be sent via email to all employees by the chairman of the board of directors drafted with the support of the human resource director. A copy will be sent to all members of the board and supervisory committee.
  • The public relations executive will draft an announcement to be sent to all organizations that need or require notification of change in CEO status. These organizations include: NCUA, state banking department, league, corporate credit union, CUNA, NAFCU, CUES or other associations, strategic partners, vendors as well as local and state credit unions.
  • Transfer all executive authority tools to the interim CEO; these will include security levels and check signing authorities. The supervisory committee will secure records as needed.

First week (five business days)

  • The board of directors will review the strategic succession plan and move in consistency with the plan to:
    • Assess internal candidates for possible internal promotion.
    • Assess viability for using an external search firm.
    • Assess feasibility of the board conducting the search without external assistance.
  • The supervisory committee will implement a transition audit to ensure a clean start for the interim CEO.
  • The interim CEO will communicate with all employees that the strategic plan and business initiatives will continue; the mood conveyed should be one of confidence and being centered.
  • The board will decide who is on the CEO selection committee.

Starting Right Means Ending Right

Of course, these are just the first few steps in a plan with an extended timetable that reaches until a permanent successor is identified and hired.

Emergency medical professionals often speak of the golden hour, the critical 60-minute period after a trauma. Many medical professionals believe that the victim's chances of survival are greatest if they receive definitive care in the operating room within that first hour after a severe injury. This metaphor is also applicable during an emergency succession scenario. Those initial steps an organization makes will have longstanding ramifications on the ongoing “health” and “recovery” in the wake of an unplanned vacancy. Having the steps outlined, agreed upon, and reviewed regularly will allow the remaining management to efficiently take advantage of the “golden hour” and get the continuing emergency succession plan off on the right steps.




March 31, 2008



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