How to crowdsource a new CEO (and give up the founder reins)

We have some pretty special news for you – the good ship PledgeMe has a new captain! Read more about who she is here. With this article we want to walk you through the process we took to bring in a new leader – so we can hopefully help some other founders out there think about how to make the next step in their leadership journey.

A few years ago, I broke down crying in a board meeting. I knew I didn’t want to be the CEO of PledgeMe, but I couldn’t get the board to believe me. I believed we needed someone to take the company to the next level, and while I had a whole bunch of skills and drive – I didn’t think that I was the woman for that job. They kept on telling me that obviously I wouldn’t want to give up the reigns, that I would want to be in charge. But being “in charge” was never my leadership style. 

Some PledgeMe team members, including former interim CEO Melanie Templeton (bottom left) and Founder and former CEO, Anna Guenther (bottom middle).

It took a lot of time, but I finally got the board across the line on a new CEO. In this article, I want to share how I did that, the decision process we went through around what kind of leadership we wanted, how we went out to find someone, and some of the steps we’re taking to try and make sure our new CEO succeeds.

How do you make the decision to get a new CEO?

For me, it felt a bit like ducks flying in formation. I had been happy to lead the way for a while and cut the path forward, but I was getting tired and wanted to give someone else a chance to forge the path.

I also knew that, at our stage of growth, we needed some new skill sets. We weren’t a group of team members acting individually across our areas of expertise anymore, we were growing to a point where we had a few people doing similar jobs – which meant a new style of management and support.

For me, the decision really came from realising what I loved – growing the brand and supporting campaigners, not developing budgets or completing performance reviews. 

What kind of leadership do you need: Chief of Staff vs GM vs CEO

We had a big debate internally: could we hire a GM, or a Chief of Staff, instead of someone with the CEO title (and paycheck). But for me, if we wanted to really grow, we needed to give someone the Mana of the title, and the power to direct me as well. 

That’s a super scary concept – what if they made decisions that I didn’t agree with? What if we didn’t get along? What if they started moving away from the core PledgeMe values? 

Activating communities is an important part of PledgeMe’s mission. We looked for a candidate who believes this is important too.

But I realised that if we picked someone who resonated with our mission and their values aligned with ours, that probably wouldn’t happen. Our style has never been command and control, so the person that would fit in with our existing culture would need to be collaborative by nature. I also realised that I probably wouldn’t always agree on the decisions that the new person made (as is the case with every single team member, and even my boyfriend). But as long as we made sure we were aligned on the big stuff, and could have hard conversations, that would be fine. 

How do you go about finding a new CEO? 

The biggest piece of work was creating the job description, and confirming what would be my role in the business versus their role in the business. We broke out the key pieces of work and teams that needed to be managed, and figured out what would stay in my wheelhouse, and what would be managed by the incoming CEO. 

Once we discussed (and debated) that, we decided that instead of a co-CEO role, we really had to have someone who made the final call on things. Which had to be the incoming CEO. We shared the job ad with the team for any final feedback, and then posted it. 

We went wide – we posted through some pretty traditional job channels, as well as sharing on our blog and through our extended networks on social media. We created a video to try and show our personality (though, if anyone knows my hair styles, they’ll know it was a bit old!) and wrote a bit about why we wanted to hire a CEO.

We posted a video about the CEO vacancy to showcase PledgeMe’s personality.

We shared the post through our board of directors networks, through our shareholders, and through our database of over 50,000 newsletter subscribers. We set a deadline for applications, and by close we had around 80 applications. 

From there, we went through a big process (led by our Chair and Interim CEO Mel) to cut the list down to a group of our top five. She conducted phone calls with each, and then selected two who we wanted to come and do interviews in person. 

After that, we did extensive reference checking, and the chance for our preferred candidate and team to have individual meetings to check each other out. We wanted to make sure our team had a chance to meet the candidate before an offer was made, so both sides could see what they were possibly getting into.

How do you set your new CEO up to succeed? 

  • We asked our incoming CEO what their learning style is, and used that to inform the onboarding plan
  • We’ve created an extensive onboarding document – and asked every team member to add any information they think the incoming CEO should see / read
  • We’ve set up their email and calendar before they started so meetings, sessions, and events could be booked in for when they start.
  • We’ve used an imminent start date to refresh a bunch of our internal documentation, so they have up-to-date plans and information

In our offer letter, we set out how their KPIs would be set with them, and how the Chair would manage them, including:

Your performance will be managed by the Chair of PledgeMe, who will conduct the following:

  • First 90 day review after completing the 90 day induction programme
  • Six month progress review based on agreed KPI framework
  • End of year performance review based on agreed KPI framework
  • Annual KPI setting and performance reviews

Our new CEO has already started, and I am so excited. I can’t wait to see what we can achieve as a team, and what new ideas we’ll bring to life.

If you’re a founder thinking about doing a similar transition and need some advice, let me know. I’m more than happy to chat through what we’ve learned so far (including crowdsourcing a board member). What we’ve done is by no means the only way – we’ve seen other founders hire Chiefs of Staff, or swap CEO and Board Chair. But whatever you decide to do, we hope you lead the way (and then get a much deserved nap). 

Words by Anna Guenther, Founder of PledgeMe.

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    How to: Find a board member (through your crowd) – PledgeMe Blog

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    Your crowd can get you through this crisis: How PledgeMe is supporting businesses during Covid-19 – PledgeMe Blog

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