What We’ve Done
Working closely with the executive director and strategic planning committee of an established, community-based organization, offering array of programs serving children and families, Wishnick & Associates designed and facilitated a comprehensive strategic planning process.
A vital component was internal and external stakeholder engagement. The board of directors and staff participated in separate facilitated group meetings where they shared their observations and thoughts about the organization as well as their aspirations for its future. Their intimate knowledge of the organization provided important information regarding its strengths, challenges, and opportunities. A select group of board members and the management staff participated in in-depth individual interviews.
Broad-based external stakeholder engagement included twenty individual interviews. Responding to a custom set of questions, program partners, trendsetters, local community members, and clients shared their insights. In addition, staff added strategic planning related questions to the annual client survey as a way to engage more broadly this specific constituency.
Findings reports synthesizing all the stakeholder input were important resources for the board of directors at the strategic planning retreat. During the full day convening, the board and management team evaluated and rewrote the organization’s mission statement, created a strategic vision for FY2016 – FY2018 (what the organization wants to be when implementing the plan is complete) and participated in robust conversations about diversity and inclusion, community needs, and the organization’s role.
The board articulated goals and strategies in all strategic areas – program and evaluation; management and operations; facility; fundraising and resource development; visibility, communications, and marketing; and leadership and governance – with the express purpose of supporting full development of all aspects of the organization and so that no one area would be hyper-developed at the expense of others.
To ensure the organization’s ability to implement the plan, a companion document was developed detailing the resources needed to implement all actions and strategies, leadership/stewardship responsibilities for all aspects of the plan, realistic time frames for execution, and a monitoring schedule.
The board of directors adopted the strategic plan and its vision for growth and increased strategic collaboration. Poised for implementation, the executive director focused attention on staff and the importance of their role in successful implementation.
When the executive director of ten-plus years notified the board of directors and subsequently departed for a new position with another agency, this human services organization implemented its succession plan naming a next-tier staff manager interim executive director. Even with the benefit of a succession plan, the board chair recognized this as uncharted territory for the current board of directors and sought Wishnick & Associates for executive transition advising. The collaboration began with a conversation about the level of involvement the board wanted Wishnick & Associates to have in setting up a search process and working with the transition task force.
With the scope of the engagement set, Wishnick & Associates developed a tailored interview guide and conducted a needs analysis to uncover important information in order to update the four-year old job description and help the organization understand the kind of leader they were seeking to ensure ongoing success. As part of the activity, Wishnick & Associates interviewed board members and the interim executive director and engaged the staff engaged in a facilitated group meeting during which they shared insights about the organization – the distinguishing features of its services and approach to delivery, its values and culture. The result of this inquiry was two-fold: the staff played an appropriate and meaningful role in the search process, and we created a new, detailed job description. The job description outlined the history of the organization, the importance of the position, key relationships, and duties and responsibilities. It also put forth the requisite experience, education, key competencies, and personal traits desired in the ideal candidate to take the organization forward.
The transition task force then moved into action. Together the task force and Wishnick & Associates, serving of counsel as an advisor and facilitator, created a focused search process to identify potential candidates, interview them, and recognize the best candidate—whether internal or external—to lead the organization. As part of the engagement, we facilitated important conversations and developed tools for the transition task force to use in vetting and evaluating candidates. All this was essential to the process and fostered the task force’s ability to find the best candidate to recommend to the board of directors and then make an offer. Within eight weeks of posting the job, the organization’s unanimously selected candidate accepted the board’s offer.
Now, the agency is thriving with a new executive director whose knowledge, skill, experience, and personal qualities are the right fit. In addition, the board of directors is a stronger partner having successfully navigated this transition.
With more than sufficient notice, the beloved and devoted executive director of a social service organization announced her plan to retire. The board of directors engaged Wishnick & Associates for a two-part project. The first part was to facilitate strategic planning to create the organization’s 3-year vision and goals as well as provide insight into the kind of leader needed to implement the plan effectively. The second part of the project was to serve as an advisor to the transition committee.
The planning process, designed by Wishnick & Associates, used strategic planning tools to engage the board, staff, clients, funders, and community partners to gain deeper understanding of the organization and its environment. The board had several planning sessions including a one-day retreat at which they affirmed the mission, articulated a 3-year strategic vision, and developed goals in five key strategic areas: program and evaluation, management and governance, finance and operations, fundraising and resource development, and communications and marketing.
As the transition committee began its work, it became clear that the organization would benefit from an interim executive director. Wishnick & Associates recommended several sources from which the interim executive director was selected. The committee then focused on its main tasks: creating a new job description, developing a recruiting process, conducting the search, and hiring the next permanent executive director. With the work accomplished within the designated time frame, the new executive director joined the organization at the beginning of the fiscal year and the launch of the strategic plan implementation.
With its first executive director in place, the organization was no longer a start-up. The board’s role could change and needed to change. While embracing the new and seeking ways to adapt and mature as an organization, a key feature of this project was to ensure that whatever came next remained true to the culture and values put forth by the founders who were still board members. The project goals were to:
- Clarify organizational roles so that the board and staff function well in their respective spheres of governance and management;
- Review existing governance guidelines and documents, re-work them to reflect changes in the organization, and develop new ones as necessary; and
- Increase the board’s size and diversity to ensure a full complement of members representing a range of skills and viewpoints.
The engagement began with a modest board assessment to gauge the board’s strengths and challenges related to roles and accountability, practice and policy, and sustainability. The findings surfaced several important issues that the board needed to address including articulating expectations of board service, determining and enforcing term limits, revising the By-Laws, creating particular policies to ensure compliance, and its own succession planning.
We updated the By-Laws to reflect the addition of an executive director, introduction of term limits, and inclusion of requisite policies. Additionally, we created documents including job descriptions for the board as an entity, individual directors, officers, and committees for the board to review and adopt.
Among the desired outcomes, the project ended with the first ever transition in board leadership as the founding board chair seamlessly passed the baton to a new leader.
Volunteer leaders of a membership organization wanted to gain greater understanding of the organization’s administrative capacity as they looked ahead to strategically manage a forthcoming period of change. In the near term, a long-standing staff member would retire; there would be increased activity that included an executive search and a capital campaign leading to subsequent significant building renovation.
Wishnick & Associates designed an assessment tool specific to the client’s needs, conducted individual interviews, and synthesized the information into a final report. The findings, based on the assessment feedback, sharpened the focus on the organization’s current capacity, made recommendations geared toward meeting future needs, and provided observations that formed during the assessment process.
Recommendations included ways in which the organization could improve administrative function and operations, strengthen planning and decision making capacities, and enhance internal and external communication. An unexpected result of the assessment was learning that the organization needed to understand more fully its relationship with a tenant.
The final step was to work with the project leaders to prioritize the recommendations and devise an implementation plan. To date, there have been successful leadership transitions in key senior staff positions, increased operational capacity, and a successful capital campaign resulting in, a beautiful, on-time facility renovation.