Journal Article | Harvard Business Review | October 2008

Evaluating the CEO

by Stephen P. Kaufman

Abstract

This article includes a one-page preview that quickly summarizes the key ideas and provides an overview of how the concepts work in practice along with suggestions for further reading. After Kaufman became a CEO, he was struck by how perfunctory the board was in its feedback on his performance. The chair of the compensation committee would pop by his office following the year-end board meeting, congratulate him on the company's making its numbers, and then hand him an envelope containing the details of his comp package before walking out the door. The entire exchange would last no more than 10 minutes. That sort of review was a big contrast from the intense evaluations Kaufman received as a senior executive--assessments based on input from many sources and on multiple dimensions of his performance. As chief executive, all of sudden his total worth was summed up in just three or four financial measures. Although CEOs should have autonomy, reducing performance management to only financial measures makes little sense. All the financial incentives in the world won't transform CEOs into better decision makers. And bad decisions can bring companies down. Boards have an obligation to shareholders to ensure that companies are led well, and the sooner they can spot problems with leaders' performance, the better. With that in mind, Kaufman encouraged Arrow Electronics, where he was CEO for 14 years, to adopt a formal process that obliged independent directors to talk to executives and observe operations firsthand. Directors considered CEO performance in five key areas: leadership, strategy, people management, operating metrics, and relationships with external constituencies. As a result, they picked up on problems Kaufman might not have noticed, provided counsel that made him a stronger leader--and avoided disasters along the way.

Keywords: Decision Choices and Conditions; Governing and Advisory Boards; Leadership; Managerial Roles; Performance Evaluation; Motivation and Incentives;

Citation:

Kaufman, Stephen P. "Evaluating the CEO." Harvard Business Review 86, no. 10 (October 2008).