Executive Transition: Cautionary Tale #2 – Undermining the Transition Process

Last month I shared a cautionary tale about what can go wrong when an organization compromises in their choice of a new executive director due to search fatigue or poor preparation.

This month, I present a tale about what can happen in an executive transition when there is lackof good will among the board of directors and a lapse in honoring one’s role as a trustee of an organization.  

Often in the case with significant decisions, a board of directors will agree up front to emerge from its deliberations in unanimity. This desire to present a united face to staff and the public conveys a strong message and fosters further buy-in by other stakeholders. But what if someoneonly pays lip service to this and strays from the groupWhat if someone doesn’t put what is best for the organization first? In this scenario, an individual disrupts the organization by subverting the transition process.

Executive Transition: Cautionary Tale #1 – Settling for Less

This post is the first of two that discuss what can go wrong when hiring nonprofit executive.This month I’ll talk about what happens when a board of directors settles for less and the downside of fatigue with the process. Next month I’ll discuss what can happen when a board member undermines the transition process.

Hiring a nonprofit executive is too important to do with anything but the utmost of careEven with strong planning something can go wrong. That’s real life. What is truly unfortunate is when an executive transition is not successful when, with more attention to the process, it could have been.

Before I began consulting with nonprofits in 2004, I worked as an executive search consultant. Among the things I know from that experience are the importance of a detailed description of the ideal candidate for a position and the necessity for patience in the process. Organizations neglect these essentials at their peril.

In the following scenario, hiring a new executive was viewed as a chore. The hiring committee approached the search with a defeatist attitude rather than seeing it as a strategic action having long-term effect on the organization.

Happy Fiscal New Year – a New Beginning

The start of the fiscal year, even if not recognized with champagne and fireworks, often signals new beginnings. In the months and weeks leading up to July, there is often a burst of activity in nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit executives and their boards of directors create and ratify new budgets. Perhaps the governance or nominating committee puts forth a slate of new directors, and even officers stepping into leadership roles. In some years there will be a new board chair, in other years a board chair may be considering how to have an impact during the final year in office.

Here are some manageable and worthwhile fiscal New Year’s resolutions to support nonprofit executives and board chairs working together to foster a productive, collaborative year for leadership and for the organization.

At the Threshold of a Leadership Transition: What’s on the Other Side?

Consulting with nonprofits on strategic planning and organizational development, I’ve seen how succession planning has emerged as a very important task for the board and executive leadership. Succession planning involves developing talent within an organization to assume higher levels of responsibility, as well as identifying a plan for seamless continuity when the executive director/CEO leaves.

When an organization has a succession plan in place, stakeholders tend to feel confident that come what may, they will be prepared. In reality, however, when a nonprofit board of directors is faced with an executive leadership transition, they cross a threshold into uncharted territory.

A Case Against Playing Good Cop, Bad Cop with the Board

Bad news is a fact of life, including organizational life, and it can be difficult to deliver. There are times, for example, when budgets are tight and the staff needs to be cut, is asked to take voluntary furloughs, or must accept delayed paychecks. Or, services or hours of operation need to be cut back.

It can be tempting to blame these unpleasant decisions on the board, since the board may be a mysterious, unseen reality that staff rarely encounter.

But avoid this temptation. Don’t throw your board under the bus when you have to deliver bad or disappointing news to your staff. Own being the executive leader – the good and the not so good of it. Be honest. Your staff can take it and will respect you for it. So will your board.

When you blame a difficult decision on the board, you drive a wedge between the two constituencies that are vital to your organization’s success and, perhaps, to your own personal success. In some organizations, the staff and board don’t know each other very well. In your leadership role, you can foster mutual trust.