Due diligence for CEOs

ACEVO’s Look before you leap guide explores the questions you should ask before you embark on a new CEO role, writes Vicky Browning.

Taking on a new role as a chief executive is an exciting step, whether you’re a first time CEO or an experienced leader.

It’s a bit like buying a new home. There are unknown places to learn and explore and new neighbours to meet. You might be looking forward to the satisfaction of putting your own touches on a fully-finished show-home or relishing the challenge of gutting the place and undertaking a complete refurb.

But no-one buys a new home without having a survey done and carrying out some local research. And the same principle applies to accepting that CEO role which on the surface looks so tempting.

At ACEVO, we’ve lost count over the years of the number of members accessing our CEO in Crisis service after taking on a job which simply wasn’t what they bargained for.

We’ve seen too many examples of newly appointed CEOs who get their feet under the desk, only to find that all is not as it had seemed. Maybe the accounts aren’t as robust as they appeared; maybe the culture or ethos of the organisation doesn’t chime, or maybe the chair and/or board are not supportive or effective.

So what are the due diligence questions you need to ask to make sure you know what you’re getting into and whether you are the right fit for the organisation – and vice versa? And how can you find out what you need to know without coming across as either over-demanding or suspicious?

Look before you leap is a guide written by Ann Frye and informed and supported by leading search and leadership advisory firm Saxton Bamfylde.

It draws on the real-life experiences of a number of CEOs, a few chairs and one or two treasurers to offers some hints and tips on checks to make and questions to ask before you take the plunge.

The advice includes using background checks using both formal sources (such as the Charity Commission website) and informal ones (such as social media) to help you build a picture of the organisation’s health. Reviewing published accounts could throw up questions you might want to ask about financial stability. And exploring the make-up of the trustee board can give clues as to whether the governance structures will enable you to be the leader you want to be.

But just as a house survey can never give you the full sense of what your new gaff will be like to live in, you can never guarantee a complete picture of an organisation until you start the job.

There will always be surprises revealed as you go along (hopefully many of them happy ones!). But we hope this guide will help you find out as much as possible before you commit, so you can take up your new role with your eyes open to (most of) the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Download the guide here. It’s free for ACEVO members and £12 for non-members. And if you’re looking for a new role, check out ACEVO’s jobs board.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

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