Creating a Winning
Hiring The Right
Executive Director &
Navigating The Transition©
The turbulence of transition is a reality throughout the non-profit
sector. It potentially puts the organization at risk.
In the case of your organization, if the shock of transition has not yet
been managed take a moment and call me immediately. I’ll give you a
quick review of how to begin.
If your organization has already announced that a change is eminent, you
have diffused the shock of the upcoming transition and you have begun
the management of that change then the planning begins here.
How you approach the hiring of a new Executive Director will set the
pace for your future. This outline is an educational tool.
It is a roadmap and not intended to be utilized as a final plan.
Notification of all affected parties and positive press. Special
handling of key individuals, stakeholders, committees, etc.
The Goal: Universal
acceptance and support for the decision.
Did your organization have an experienced Executive Director?
Is your non-profit a
Will your new Executive
Director be able to meet with the transitioning incumbent or is this
part of a hostile transition?
The stressors of a new
and different person and new position, unlike the new directors last
assignment will include building immediate credibility within a new
community of colleagues, clients, community leaders, networks,
businesses, internal committees, the community at large and more.
In a decisive study
conducted by the Center For Creative Leadership in 1998 it was found
that 40% of transitioning executives failed in the first 18 months. In a
more recent study, seven reasons were given for these failures by a
organizational strategy and fuzzy objectives prior to arriving
mesh between the talents of the CEO and strengths of the organization •Withholding
authority required to do the job
learning of the culture of the organization and the expectations of key
to grasp the operating environment of the organization
to do too much for too many on her/his own
to help the organization see what needs to happen
The first 90 days is
many times referred to as the “onboarding” period. In the book,
The Business Bible of Onboarding, author Michael Watkins
summarized the reasons for failure as “a pernicious (destructive)
interaction between the situation, with its opportunities and pitfalls,
and the individual, with his or her strengths and vulnerabilities.”
Following are a series
of components to successfully transition out the current Executive
Director and recruit a new leader consistent with the views of
governance from a Board, Staff, Network, Agency and Community
(There will be other
components as we personalize your tailored Transition Plan)
Each organization is
unique. We tailor the transition to suit the distinctive culture,
operational structure, priorities, financial goals and personality of
Rituals and Legends
How the outgoing
Executive Director is treated in the remaining time is a key element in
preparing for new leadership. This will be helpful with the completion
of the current Executive’s duties, paving a positive path for the new
with the Community, Staff and Others
The announcement and
transition must be handled with grace, even under the most dire
The wording and
placement of the notice of a position opening will aid in starting the
process of recruiting a new leader. One Board person will need to head
up this component. Collecting, organizing, ranking and communicating
with candidates and others will be critical. The recruitment, interview
and selection process must be transparent and balanced.
The introduction of a
Search Committee will aid the Board in their final decision making task.
Candidates must meet
with key staff and the Chair of the Board Search Committee. In numerous
organizations, key staff and other staff may apply for the position.
This needs to handled appropriately.
Prior to final
selection the finalists should be asked to prepare select materials and
a presentation on the organizations Mission, Vision and beyond. This
presentation will be made to the full Board and others as identified.
Tabulation and Selection
Final selection rests
with the full Board. However, the above referenced team approach will be
helpful and create a chain of credibility throughout the process. The
use of a tailored process, set questions, and rating grids and will
avoid issues of discriminatory practices and allow for a smooth
The design and
orchestration of the orientation process will be a bell weather of early
success. Starting with the Board and defining key groups, key
stakeholders, key vendors, formal and informal relations and more will
be a critical element.
technique is to develop a Briefing Book.
This is a playbook of what you do, when and how you do it.
Includes your strengths, vulnerabilities and
Offering the incoming Executive Director assistance with his/her initial meetings
will create a Board bond and immediate support.
The Board works with
the new leader to develop and publish a communications plan for the
first 60 to 90 days. This will help everyone know what to expect and
reduce the trauma of introducing a new leader.
History and Culture
After all else is done
it is still useful to have the new leader meet with a select group of
individuals to review the history and culture of your organization. This
sets the stage for a better understanding of how the organization
arrived at the point where you are and aids the new Executive Director
in planning for the future.
Personal Action Plan
Require that the
incoming Executive Director produce an organizational assessment and
proposed action plan of the priorities to be tackled.
This should typically
come to the Board between 3-6 months and earlier if your organization is
in a crisis mode. This is a key or primary vehicle between the Board and
the Executive Director.
This outline is only the
beginning. The ability to modify it to the express needs of your
organization and to flesh it out and properly execute the plan is the
critical difference between success and failure.
I offer this outline to explain
how I approach this subject. In no way is it complete enough to venture
off and execute a recruitment project. I suggest we talk and discuss
your needs before you try to execute a plan based solely on the above.
In any event, I wish
you the best in your efforts, and if this outline helps then I have
succeeded in beginning the process you will need to follow.
David Wandel is
an Organizational Development Consultant in Madison, Wisconsin.
David has consulted and conducted programs, seminars and workshops for,
for-profit and non-profit organizations for over twenty years.
Email David at
David at 608-238-6850, 877-240-4068 or on his mobile at 608-345-6337.