Every time a new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) takes the reins at an organization, change is inevitable, particularly because each CEO brings his or her own unique administrative style and vision to the organization. Often the new CEO brings to the position a great deal of enthusiasm and a desire to improve the way the agency delivers its services to the community. Often this change greatly impacts either positively or negatively on the staff and board of directors.
The process of finding and hiring a new CEO usually involves a committee made up of members of the board, volunteer leaders affiliated with the greater community and key personnel of the agency itself. The search process provides an opportunity for the board to attract someone who is not only able to direct the organization, but who can infuse the organization with new ideas for developing the organization and strengthening its ties to the community. The search committee will listen carefully to the candidate’s way of thinking and the person’s conception of administration of non-profit organizations during the interview process.
Frequently, the administrative and professional staff will have the opportunity to meet the short-list of candidates or the preferred candidate before the final decision is made by the volunteer leadership. This is an important step in easing the transition from the former CEO to the incoming CEO. Bringing the candidate(s) and the staff together for the final interview(s) allows both the candidate and the staff to begin to know each other and to exchange ideas and views on the agency, as well as initiate director-staff relationships.
Introducing the CEO (designate or candidate) to the staff can ameliorate potential problems that might occur if the CEO is hired without ever meeting the staff. Through this open process, the CEO will know what to expect once engaged and the staff will have an opportunity to become familiar with the candidates(s) that are being considered by the board. These preliminary discussions between the candidate and the staff eliminate unnecessary anxiety and create a new dynamic in the agency as both parties begin to work together.
At the same time, even these initial meetings are in no way a foolproof indicator of how the new CEO and staff will work together. Such a process that takes time to unfold as the CEO and the staff members become acquainted with each other. A big part of this is establishing the role the staff will play in relation to the new administration.
For example, when the staff has traditionally been intimately involved in the decision making process both for how services are administered and implemented and the incoming CEO does not conceive of the role of the staff in the same way, this can lead to difficulties in their relationship. If the new CEO does not involve the staff in the decision-making process in the accustomed, usual way, it can negatively impact both the atmosphere in the office and the way the services are delivered. In particular, when the staff has been involved in the past and the new CEO does not continue to utilize them in the same way this can have deleterious impact on the organization.
This is especially true when the CEO has determined that the decision-making process is within the prevue of the role of the executive. Although this may be a logical way of looking at the role of the CEO, it may not always be the wisest decision. If the staff is committed and involved in the organization and has played a role in making decisions about the policies and programs of the organization in the past, then a way should be found to continue to utilize their involvement.
When the new CEO assumes responsibility for an organization, it is best to take the time to assess the involvement of the staff and their ability to enhance the continued development of the agency. A staff forum can also be established where staff members from different departments in the organization can share their perceptions and thinking about issues. Often this will provide the opportunity for the CEO and the staff to develop a close working relationship and does not mean the CEO relinquishes the right to assert the executive function.
This process not only enhances the staff members’ commitment to the organization, but also creates a closer working relationship between the staff and the CEO. Working together in this way allows each side to develop trust in other, which will ultimately strengthen the organization in its entirety.
Most staff involved in nonprofit organizations are altruistically motivated and do not work purely for the salary. A CEO who involves staff members in the decision-making process and who regularly consults with them will ultimately enhance their commitment to the mission and purpose of the organization. It is in every organization’s interest to support the staff and to give personal attention to both what they do and how they do it because this will impact not just the staff members themselves but also the community, the board and the volunteers out providing services on the frontlines. That is why it is so crucial for the CEO newly arrived on the scene to create and develop a strong, ongoing relationship with existing staff members.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.