I just fired my CIO. Now what?

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For the past five years, you have championed your Chief Investment Officer. You have promoted this person to the market. You have introduced him or her to one client after another, applauding a defined investment thesis, convincing the world of its right and might.

And now, there’s a parting of the ways. Your CIO is leaving. Or you fired him or her. It’s friendly or frosty. But in the end, you are now facing a classic communications strategy. How do you tell the world in positive terms that the CIO you held in such high esteem is leaving? Consider the following:

What are the options? Do you have a replacement in the wings? Are you about to conduct a search? Can you replace him internally? Was his strategy so ingrained in the organization that you can continue on in the same vein, or are you going in a new direction? All these considerations color the storytelling. But in the end, clients want to believe that your organization is strong enough, developed enough, and smart enough to overcome any disruption. Be confident. Be firm and spell out the plan.

The best possible set of circumstances. In an ideal world, a replacement is ready to be named. If so, this takes precedence in the communications strategy, effectively deflecting attention from the departure and reconfiguring the story around the future.

Consider the message by audience. Each audience will have their own self-interest at heart. You need to take a 360-degree approach in order to speak clearly to each of them, while alienating none of them. Employees, shareholders, and high-value clients will view the change through their own prism. A simple trick to help: Chart each audience along with their points of concern and then create messages that resonate with each based on their perspective and concerns.

Understand the secret language of management transitions. In the land of communications, there exist those secret words that suggest meaning without inflaming situations. Here’s a quick glossary:

  • Has left to pursue other opportunities. The language suggests it was not a mutual parting of the ways. Rather, the employee was let go for unstated reasons.
  • He left to pursue another opportunity. Implies that he accepted employment elsewhere.
  • A search will be undertaken. Intimates that the firm was flat-footed by the news, but is actively and professionally managing the process.
  • We wish him the best. Sounds magnanimous. But is just superfluous. 
  • The core team of investment strategist remains intact. Suggests there might not be a need for a replacement.

Prioritize your client base. And communicate appropriately with each according to their values. Who among your clients will require personal contact or face-to-face meetings? Is a personal letter appropriate, or will an email suffice? What channels will you use to communicate and connect in order to manage fear and quell concerns? A simple prioritization exercise can provide deep insights into developing the right message for each audience.

Controlling the cascade of messaging. There’s only so much that can be centralized. In the end, the message might well be conveyed by advisors and others. Help them tell a convincing story by scripting their responses and arming them with fully considered answers to likely questions.

Transform change into opportunity. To reacquaint yourself with your clients. To renew relationship. To reconsider investment strategies and make new alternatives available to clients. Change is perhaps the only certainty of business, and opportunities come to those who can exploit change and convert it into opportunities to grow, expand, and win new confidence with clients.