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No Need to Hit the Panic Button When a CEO Decides to Leave

1 December 2014 at 8:35 am
Xavier Smerdon
Leadership recruitment in the Not for Profit sector needs to adopt a new more considered approach and avoid hitting the panic button when a CEO decides to leave, writes management specialist Chris Gandy.

Xavier Smerdon | 1 December 2014 at 8:35 am


No Need to Hit the Panic Button When a CEO Decides to Leave
1 December 2014 at 8:35 am

Leadership recruitment in the Not for Profit sector needs to adopt a new more considered approach and avoid hitting the panic button when a CEO decides to leave, writes management specialist Chris Gandy.

If you have been a Director of a Not for Profit, I am sure you can relate to this.

I received a call recently from a Board Member of a mid-sized cause-based organisation and the conversation went something like this:

“Our CEO has just walked and we need to replace him, like tomorrow. Can you help?”

I said. “Not only can we help you recruit a replacement but show you how to transform your organisation at the same time. How does that sound?”

This stopped her in her tracks. “What do you mean?” she asked.

I met with the Chair of the Board and I had a copy of the CEO’s Position Description (which was over four years old) thrust in my hand and was asked to get the position listed on social media Job Boards by that evening.

The Chair then started to describe the veil of doom they could foresee descending on the organisation if we didn’t snare a new CEO immediately.

Admittedly the organisation was in some strife and the CEO’s exit was adding to the misery. But I needed a circuit breaker in this one-way conversation so started to calmly rip the PD into little pieces and throw them into a nearby bin.

When asked what I was doing I explained that if I was to help we would need a totally new PD. I wasn’t so much interested in where the organisation had been but where it was going – because that would tell us about the person we will need to help get it there.

My view on Leadership Recruitment in the Not for Profit sector is that it needs to adopt a new, more considered approach. The days of Board’s muddling through a recruitment process or at best using a local recruiter to find a clone of the previous CEO must end – for the sake of the sector and the millions of people who rely on the services it provides.

Sure the exit of a CEO can be stressful and time consuming for a Board and an unsettling period for staff and stakeholders. But it also unleashes unique opportunities for change and growth – and we need to capture these fully.

And at Cause & Effective we have developed an approach called the Leadership Transition Program to do just that. The basic features of the Program are:

  • The swift appointment of an Interim CEO. Depending upon the organisation this may be an external appointee or a member of the existing leadership team who is elevated to the role. This move is important as it conveys a message of “business as normal” to staff and stakeholders and helps avoid the dreaded “limbo period” where no decisions are made.

  • Together with the Interim CEO, the Board, staff and other stakeholders we then take stock. This involves a “warts and all” review of where the organisation now stands and is heading if no significant change occurs. Immediate management needs are identified and addressed.

  • We then move into a reframing phase as the organisation is now in a place to chart a new strategic direction or reconfirm the previous goals with renewed verve. It is a great opportunity to explore identity and direction.

  • When all are in agreement on the organisation’s future path, we craft a skill profile of the person who is going to guide us along it.

  • Incremental operational changes flowing from the earlier steps start to occur. Organisational capacity begins to turn for the better. Any legacy issues that might hinder the success of the incoming leader are identified and addressed.

  • A thorough search and recruitment process now commences with enthusiasm based on the knowledge the Board now has a renewed and realistic view of the future and the type of leader they will need to help them realise it.

  • This new enthusiasm will have an impact on the market and is likely to draw the attention of candidates who previously wouldn’t have given the organisation’s recruitment campaign a second look.

  • The new leader is engaged with clear performance priorities and an agreed monitoring, support and evaluation process in place.

  • The organisation is in a great position to flourish – capacity issues have been addressed, a firm direction has been determined and a new leader with the appropriate skills, energy and desire has been engaged to guide it forward.

And how did the Chair react to all this? Well, to be honest she was a little taken aback but her first words were “When can you start”.

About  the author:  Chris Gandy is the founder and a Director of Cause & Effective an organisation that offers practical and cost-effective advice, programs and management services to caused-based organisations. Find out more about the Janus Leadership Transition Program HERE


Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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