Succeed at succession: Learning from Ballmer’s Microsoft exit

Microsoft CEO Steve BallmerIs your organization prepared for turnover at the top? Dominating the headlines these days is the news, analysis and speculation surrounding Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s exit. Opinions are at best mixed, at least among media commentators and shareholders, about Ballmer’s reign over the tech giant that his predecessor, Bill Gates, built.

Just one month before announcing his upcoming departure, Ballmer reassured the public, and shareholders, that Microsoft did indeed have a succession plan in place. In a Seattle Times interview, Ballmer said:

“Our board always has a succession plan. The specifics of what our board is thinking is confidential. But I can say our board has put a lot of time and energy into the notion of both longer-term succession, as well as what I’d call the “what if the CEO gets hit by the bus” succession.”

Ballmer’s words helped prepare the wider world for the news that came a month later: That he would depart within the next 12 months, upon the Microsoft board’s identification of a successor in accordance with its succession plan.

But that still wasn’t enough to stop widespread reporting about Microsoft being in a “succession crisis,” despite Ballmer’s reassuring words.

It’s no surprise that the world’s largest software company has a succession plan in place; after all, Microsoft has had more than a decade to digest the lessons from the high-stakes and high-profile transition from legendary founding CEO Bill Gates to his successor, Ballmer.

But what about smaller companies and especially nonprofits – which is to say, just about every other organization, including the one you likely care the most about? Does your organization have a clear succession plan in place? Will your organization be able to avoid a “succession crisis” by anticipating and planning for the challenges each leadership transition brings?

Our book, “When Leaders Leave,” is designed to help nonprofits weather these very storms. With relevant examples and easy-to-follow guidelines, quizzes to help you identify your organization’s status and the steps it needs to take to thrive amid transition, When Leaders Leave: A New Perspective on Leadership Change, is the guidebook your organization needs to avoid common mistakes and even prosper among the opportunities that present themselves when a leader leaves.