The board needs to remind the organization's employees that the performance improvement imperative doesn't just depend on the presence and leadership of just one person.
"Where we have seen less effective transition is in the absence of such performance improvement plans," he says.
Step 3: Develop a communication strategy
"When the turnover happens, there's got to be a clear communication plan in place [about] a change in leadership, and to remind people of what the direction the organization is going, particularly with the medical staff," he says.
Much of that crisis-level communication strategy can be prepared prior to a leadership change, if the organization has a forward-thinking vice president of public relations and marketing, who has put together contingencies for a variety of crises, including a potential change in leadership, for example.
"Communication, or lack thereof, in the transition is a vital component," Armstrong says.
Step 4: Boards: Be most vigilant when things are going well
The succession plan is ultimately the board's responsibility to formulate, even though the executive team is often involved. Ideally, the plan should identify an internal successor candidate, and the candidate's name should be shared internally to ensure stability in case of a sudden departure of the current CEO.
Boards should ask themselves what they would do if tomorrow the CEO told them he or she was leaving, says Armstrong. Furthermore, boards should identify someone who could lead the organization on an interim basis while a full search is conducted.
"When someone is involuntarily removed, that's often part of the plan," says Armstrong. "Boards are caught flat-footed more often when things are going well."
Philip Betbeze is the senior leadership editor at HealthLeaders.