There is often panic when an organization experiences an executive vacancy. I hear board chairs frequently say, “I was hoping this wouldn’t happen on my watch!” Given that most nonprofits operate with lean staffing, board members face the real possibility they might have to step in and do management work because there is no surplus internal staff capacity. Boards, then, often feel forced to react immediately: How quickly can we fill this position? Who do we already know in this field? How quickly can we post the existing job description? Why not fill it internally with someone who already knows everything?
But the exit of a senior leader is always a strategic choice point for a nonprofit: an opportunity to look forward to emerging community needs without looking at the scope of services defined by the skills and experience of the departing executive. This is the right time to assess an organization's business model and staffing to determine what has recently changed in the external environment and what changes are needed to advance the organization's mission. The exit of a nonprofit leader calls for far more than“ succession planning,” it demands a specific process of Transition Planning. This is one of many reasons I’m excited about the new combination of LevRidgeResources and Lift Connection with Armstrong McGuire Associates. Joining our firms together, we will have the expertise and capacity for full service Executive Transition services, from Succession Planning to Business Assessments, Executive Search, Transition Consulting, Interim Leaders, and onboarding the new executive and board members to the new leadership culture.
During the past 12 years of developing and working with professional Interim Executive leaders I’ve become a zealot believer in the benefits to any nonprofit going through leadership change. This is especially true for those losing long term, beloved leaders or founders, or when the organization is facing significant changes due to the external environment.
The Presbyterian Church, and Episcopal Church, have long insisted that a retiring senior pastor be followed by an interim preacher, from outside the congregation and current staff, to break the congregation's ties to the former pastor, while honoring the past. This practice serves to open the church to what can come next.
Some boards select a prominent, retired business leader as the interim, then congratulate themselves on a distinguished placement. But without prior nonprofit experience, even an experienced corporate executive can have difficulty adjusting to work life in a nonprofit. It is equally advisable NOT to consider asking an internal staff member to serve as the interim. That person is already burdened and being asked to assume additional work might not be welcome, even if these are higher level responsibilities. This can also raise internal distress: Who can assume their other existing duties? Is he or she a candidate for the position? Will she be paid more? When the interim period is over, will she be "demoted" back to her former position? Why might she be capable of assuming interim executive duties but not qualified for the permanent position?
Contracting with a professional Interim Executive can keep the staff engaged and focused on their work, donors interested and reassured, and the board appropriately focused on their priority: determination of what’s needed next and the successful search for a permanent hire. An interim executive can provide the board of directors with the interim solution to determine how best to move into a thriving future.
I look forward to meeting many of you and working closely, beginning in January, joining with Armstrong McGuire, as the Director of Interim Management Services, to further develop and expand our transition services work together.