A leader makes or is encouraged to make a hasty exit after a short tenure at a non- profit. Word spreads quickly through the non-profit community and people begin to share their opinions. They agree with the decision for the Executive Director to part ways with the organization, or they disagree with the decision. Either way, they are usually concerned about the short or long term stability of the organization. And sometimes, they ask: “Who did the search?”
Hiring is a tricky business. Most of us have had the experience of hiring a person who turned out to bear little resemblance to the person we interviewed or who was described during reference checks. And a so-called “bad hire” can be costly in terms of morale, time, and money, especially when it’s the leader of the organization. The best defense is a thoughtful process beginning to end and understanding a simple fact, the process doesn’t begin with a posting or end with the hiring.
Many non-profit organizations contemplate using a professional search firm in order to ease the human resource burden of a search, to attract top talent through channels they may not have access to, and, to inject objective expertise. It’s also important to evaluate a firm’s approach and ensure its fit with the organization, including the board of directors.
While there is a variety in process across firms, one thing should be certain: firms don’t hire the candidate. The organization hires them. The firm manages the process, including bringing forward candidates that are in line with the expectations expressed by the board of directors, and assisting in vetting and facilitating an offer.
An early order of important business is establishing what the organization is seeking in a new leader. Even under less than desirable circumstances – like a hasty departure - hiring a new leader is a time of opportunity for serious reflection about the type of leadership under which the organization is most apt to flourish. If the organization has a strong succession plan in place, a “living” strategic plan, and an engaged board, they won’t be starting from square one. This step is critical to the rest of the process and is the lens through which the job posting, job description, candidate pool, etc. will all be developed.
Of equal importance and more often neglected is what happens after the hire. The Board of Directors is typically relieved to get someone on board, the new leader dives in, and too often, everyone agrees to convene at the next board meeting. Paying attention to the on–boarding of a new leader by providing systematic support and oversight is crucial. Agreeing upon the expectations of the position, setting measurable goals for the first six months of employment, and establishing and using clear channels of communications, can increase the chances of success, or, highlight problems early and provide an opportunity to address those issues.
There is always a lot riding on hiring the right leader for an organization and investing time and thought on the front end and not declaring the hiring process over too soon, can put you in a strong position for it to be the “right” hire.
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