The most critical and potentially demanding moment in the life of a nonprofit organization comes with the departure of its chief executive. Challenging questions can swirl in the minds of board members and staff:
“How do we find someone who will best lead our organization?”
“How do we find a good fit?”
“How do we carry on in the meantime?”
Answers may not occur quickly, but important decisions are in order. Serious answers to fundamental questions must be thoughtful and sure. Leadership is paramount. Savvy outside counsel is priceless.
Backed by a wealth of experience, the Support Center’s widely-acclaimed Executive Search and Transition and Management (ESTM) service can guide an organization through its most difficult juncture. The Center’s seasoned transition consultants lead a comprehensive course of action in three proven phases:
Phase I – Transition Planning and Management
The first phase enables a nonprofit to assemble a transition committee, create a work plan, assess organizational needs and set the stage for an appropriately qualified new hire.
Key actions during this period:
- Assign short-term staff duties and responsibilities
- Determine whether to hire an interim executive director
- Conduct an organizational assessment
- Develop a list of key skills needed from a new executive
- Set a competitive compensation strategy
Phase II – Hiring an Executive Director
In hiring a new executive from a pool of candidates, “We need to get past the distraction of the shiny penny, the person who gives a wonderful presentation but doesn’t have the right qualifications,” says Julia Lu, the Support Center’s Director of Consulting. “We focus on cold, hard skills—and exactly what the organization genuinely needs. Then we can get into second-level characteristics such as personality and style, which is also key and must fit the organization’s unique culture.”
Actions during this period include:
- Create and implement a recruitment strategy with the transition committee
- Screen candidates and interview finalists
- Establish a contingency plan if first offer is declined
- Negotiate a new executive contract
TWO COMMON MISTAKES in hiring: ignoring new or changed organizational needs, and hiring new executives exactly alike or exactly opposite their predecessors.
Phase III – Post-Hire Assistance
This critical phase is often minimized or ignored during executive transitions. Support Center transition consultants, having gained significant knowledge about the organization through the assessment and hiring phases, can provide guidance to the board and quickly settle in the new executive.
Without this expert short-term coaching, a newly hired executive may not receive sufficient support from board members who may be fatigued by the demands of the transition process. A new executive can also become overwhelmed by daily management details, and consequently unable to focus on the organization’s long-term needs.
Actions during this period include:
- Introduce newly appointed executive to staff and key external stakeholders
- Forge agreement between executive and board members on near-term and future performance
- Identify and plan professional development needs of staff and board members
- Agree on a performance appraisal process
Throughout all phases of ESTM, the Support Center’s consultants are mindful of dealing with the most delicate aspect of a client organization’s need–leadership at the top. They know that hiring a principal leader requires the art of intuition as well as objective analysis. They listen, and try to pick up on details that might not have been communicated by the board, like staff morale and contradictions between what has been communicated and what they observe.
The Bottom Line
The ultimate goal is to identify and engage a new leader who will be a partner with the board in providing leadership. This approach is proven to increase institutional capacity and advance organizational effectiveness.
Navigating your next executive transition with help from the Support Center will:
- Result in an exceptional new hire, matched to your organizational needs
- Stabilize your organization during transition
- Reduce staff turmoil
- Reduce funder and donor anxiety
- Promote effective board engagement
- Address financial issues
- Ensure continuity of services
To learn more or or discuss your organization’s needs contact, call (212) 924-6744 ext. 306 or email Don Crocker, Senior Fellow for Executive Transitions.