Succession Planning: The Board-CEO Partnership

By Mary K. Totten and John R. Combes, MD

Succession planning for the CEO and other senior leadership positions is critical to organizational continuity and stability, especially in a transforming healthcare field. However, over the years, research has shown that a majority of healthcare organization boards say they don’t have a formal CEO succession plan in place.

A study conducted by ACHE in 2004 found that only 21 percent of responding freestanding hospitals conducted routine leadership succession planning, and even fewer had identified a successor for their current CEO. A 2006 report of a survey done by Witt/Kieffer and the Ohio State University School of Public Health found nearly two-thirds of respondents said their healthcare organizations did not do formal CEO succession planning, and, for those that did, few put their succession plans in writing.

One recent study suggests the tide is turning in the healthcare sector. A study of governance in large nonprofit health systems conducted by the Commonwealth Center for Governance Studies in 2012 showed 43 percent of respondents from 14 of the nation’s largest healthcare organizations said they had formal succession plans for the CEO and senior positions and the board chairman and board committee chairmen. However, a 2014 National Association of Corporate Directors study of U.S. public and private companies indicated only one-third had formal CEO succession plans in place.

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