Friday, October 11, 2019

What does it mean to hire for "cultural fit?"

The vast majority of employers want to create work environments that are welcoming to diverse groups of staff and clients.  (And I’m guessing that our readers share our desire to one day be able to begin that sentence with ALL employers).  So given that it’s what most of us desire, why is true diversity not as commonplace as we’d like?

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, here’s one contributing factor: While we crave diversity and inclusion, we are all also committed to our corporate cultures.   We want to hire to perpetuate what we experience as a positive, healthy work environment.  However, it’s essential to be clear on what builds and perpetuates culture. Human Resources Consultant Patty McCord proposes that “What most people mean by culture fit is hiring people they’d like to have a beer with.”  What appears on the surface to be good business practice may in fact be a barrier to our end goal.

The article’s author Sue Shellenbarger poses the following question: “How can bosses make sure they are hiring for meaningful shared values rather than superficial sameness?”  Here’s how she differentiates:

Cultural Fit
What it is:
  • Shared enthusiasm about a company’s mission or purpose
  • A common approach to working, together or individually
  • A mutual understanding of how to make decisions and assess risk

What it’s not:
  • A common educational, cultural or career background
  • A sense of comfort and familiarity with co-workers
  • Shared enjoyment of such perks as ping pong and craft beer

While those of us whose careers have been primarily in the nonprofit sector may not have experienced those kinds of “perks,” we may have unwittingly leaned towards hiring those we’d could see hanging out with after work or at a charitable event.  Clear delineation of the work-based values that define our desired culture – and checking ourselves to ensure that they support inclusion instead of exclusion – is a great start to ensuring a welcoming, diverse environment. 

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Hey board member – your ED is leaving!

A board member’s most dreaded phone call may be the one saying that the ED is leaving.

Wouldn’t you like to immediately have the confidence to know that:
  • A temporary leader has been designated for day-to-day operations, they’re prepared for that role, and they know how their regular work will be covered.
  • A prioritized communication ladder is ready to go so that people served, staff, and funders know that the change is being handled well.
  • The board knows the steps and roles to begin a thoughtful transition process that focuses first on the best way to deliver the mission and then on finding the next best leader.
  • The temporary leader and board have access to organized, critical organizational information.
  • Organizational leadership is ready – cross-trained with skills and competencies linked to mission.

Succession planning gives you this confidence.   Succession planning strengthens an organization by proactively preparing people & policies for a transition that will occur at some future point -whether on your watch or another.  Succession planning is simply good governance.

Overall, succession planning is not hard or expensive. A board and ED can develop an Emergency Succession Plan and Succession Policies in a short series of taskforce meetings.  Once plans and policies are in place, any operational issues related to succession can be addressed.  At a minimum, healthy succession includes ongoing development for staff and board.

Are you ready for succession?  Download our free Readiness Assessment to see where you stand.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Can it be cruel to be kind?

Nick Lowe and Hamlet think so.  But rocker and poetic license aside, is there some truth in this well-worn phrase?

In working with a diverse group of nonprofit organizations in Florida, we repeatedly hear the desire for open and direct communication.  One of the most respected attributes in a leader is someone who uses clear and concise communication to build an atmosphere of trust.  So while no one is asking to be treated cruelly, there is a clear preference for honest feedback delivered in a timely manner over being handled so gently that the message is prolonged and perhaps never truly heard. 

When you are sharing praise or constructive criticism, be specific and to the point.  Your employees and those to whom you report want to know what you think and how they can bring their best game to the organization.  Let them know that your input is part of your investment in and commitment to the value they add to your mission work.

Feedback should be provided all year long, and no employee should hear recommendations to improve performance for the first time during their evaluation.   The evaluation process is a time of increased vulnerability, and your team members will absorb your overall assessment in a more constructive way if it’s used to reinforce ongoing feedback.

So don’t be cruel and do be kind – but don’t let your message get lost in the process. 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Onboarding your new CEO

What a relief it is for a nonprofit Search Committee to finally hire a new CEO! After many months of meetings and interviews, the end is in sight and soon things can get “back to normal”. Or so you think. However, there is still important work to be done to assure that the new leader is successful. And that starts with an “onboarding plan” to help this person get up to speed fairly quickly.

What is onboarding?
It is the education and assimilation of a person into a new role.  It includes providing:
  • Information
  • Introductions
  • Education/training/insight sharing
  • Office set-up

How does one prepare for onboarding?
It starts by aggregating and organizing information about the organization – the who, what, when, where, why and how – both internal and external, regarding operations, board governance, community relations, etc. This information includes materials like:
  • The CEO’s job description (ideally with details about specific daily/weekly/monthly/annual activities)
  • The CEO checklist (see our Succession Planning Toolkit, which identifies where all key information is stored (e.g. legal documents, personnel files, passwords, contracts)
  • Lists of staff, board members, donors and stakeholders with details about their relationships with the organization
  • Calendar of important dates (e.g. staff, board and committee meetings, fundraisers, “friend-raisers”, networking groups)
  • Board materials (e.g. bylaws, policies and procedures, committees, minutes)
  • Financials
  • Strategic Plan with progress report
  • Marketing materials
  • And anything else that will help him/her be successful!

Onboarding also involves introductions to staff, board and key stakeholders according to a very thoughtful, prioritized plan that likely includes one-on-one meetings, small and large gatherings. And there should be a thoughtful and strategic communications plan to inform all stakeholders (e.g. letters, emails, phone calls, website, press releases) about the new CEO.

It is also important to get the new CEO’s office set-up BEFORE DAY ONE. You want him to be ready and able to focus his attention on meeting people and listening to them on that first day. So, prior to his official start, it is important to set up email, phone and passwords, arrange furniture, etc.

Who prepares, plans and implements this onboarding?
Typically, a Transition Committee will develop and implement this plan with help from the outgoing CEO (if relationship is good) or the Interim (if there is one), the Board Chair and a designated staff member. The committee enlists others too – staff and board members as appropriate - to collect and share information, provide background/education/training, develop and implement the communications plan and make introductions.

Much of this preparation can be done while the search is underway so that the Search Committee CAN breathe a sigh of relief when the new CEO is hired! In fact, you never know when your CEO might leave, so maybe you should start now?

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Is Executive Transition the Big Bad Wolf?

We all know the story.  Fearing the Big Bad Wolf, one little pig builds with straw, one with twigs, and only one builds a solid brick structure.   According to BoardSource’s 2017 Leading with Intent study, only 27 percent of nonprofit organizations have written succession plans.   Proportionately, the little pigs are outpacing nonprofits.

By and large, nonprofits are afraid to address executive transition.  We’re afraid that succession planning sends “signals” of imminent change or instability, so we don’t adequately invest in leadership development or plan for the next generation of leaders.  When it comes to organizational leadership, too many boards are building with twigs and straw.

But - even if you’re afraid of the Big Bad Executive Transition – there are some leadership bricks you can use to prevent your nonprofit house from being blown down.

Invest in the next generation of staff leaders
Using your strategic plan, define the skills and competencies that the organization needs to succeed. Build job descriptions and training on these essential attributes.  Develop staff through stretch assignments.  Allow them to take risks, making sure you support them with time and mentoring from other staff or Board members.  Be intentional about inclusion and equity as you develop staff.  Yes, your staff may eventually leave.   But if you help them become stronger and more capable, they can still help deliver mission even if it’s from another organization.  

Shift from board recruitment to managing board succession
Recruitment is a transactional activity to get people in seats.  Recruitment is absolutely part of succession, but it’s only a part.  Managing board succession is an ongoing process of engaging board members, developing a culture of critical questioning, and developing on-going leadership both within your organization and by acting as liaison with aligned organizations.

 Building your staff and board strengthen your organization and its mission delivery.  By itself, this makes your organization more impactful.  It also strengthens the nonprofit house for the day when the Wolf of Transition comes to huff and puff at your door.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Preparing for a Nonprofit CEO Transition

One of the greatest fears of a nonprofit Board of Directors is that their CEO will leave during their tenure. They are rightfully concerned with numerous issues, including:
  • Leadership capacity beyond the CEO
  • Potential departure of other staff
  • Potential reduction in funding
  • Potential disruption to mission delivery
  • Potential loss of confidence and support of various stakeholders
  • And all of this for an unknown amount of time

Given these very real fears, it is interesting that Boards often leave the business of transition to a small group of volunteers and staff who may have limited experience with executive transitions and who are not familiar with the resources available to them, of which there are many.

It’s important to note that CEO transitions aren’t just the hiring of a new leader. They involve preparation (e.g. capturing information from the current CEO, staff cross-training and alignment, communication plans), search and hire (e.g. developing the job description that reflects the needs of the organization now, making sure that the person is right fit), and onboarding (e.g. opportunity for the new CEO to listen, learn, meet, acclimate, and get set on the path to success). When done well, it’s a robust process that requires due diligence, strategy, sensitivity, staff engagement, effective communication, and more.

Of course, we at Clarity Transitions are ready and able to help. But if that’s not an option, then it behooves those involved to research how best to manage the process. Why does this matter? Because if managed poorly, those greatest fears can be realized. Difficult transitions, like those which are unanticipated, emergency or board-initiated, may leave an organization especially vulnerable. You certainly do not want to make the wrong hire and have the “unintentional interim”, the new CEO who leaves within a short period of time, leaving you to start all over again.

Where do you find these resources? Clarity Transitions has a Succession Planning Toolkit that can help you navigate this unknown territory. ( Also, BoardSource has numerous guides that can help. (

It is definitely worth the time and effort to manage a CEO transition well so as to keep your organization strong and sustainable and its mission on track!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

What's your commitment to serving on a board?

How many times have you been asked to serve on a Board of Directors of a nonprofit?  Organizations whose purposes matter to you and are comprised of good people trying to do good things?  As proponents of the sector, we want to see thoughtful, caring people participate on Boards and engage in good governance. 

But what exactly does that mean?  While it’s important than you have a heart for the work, Board service is much more than simply caring about an organization.   If you commit, here’s a few of the things you must be willing to do:

  • Agree to articulate the organization’s mission to your friends and business colleagues
  • Delve into the profit and loss statement and balance sheets and ask questions about what you don’t understand
  • Mark Board and committee meetings as priorities on your calendar
  • Understand the organization’s strategic priorities – where does it want to go and how does it intend to get there?
  • Don’t be afraid to question how well the organization is achieving its purpose/mission and if that mission could be better achieved differently
  • Help build community relationships that support the strategic direction
  • Donate
  • Acknowledge donors and other funders whenever possible
  • Be aware of areas of high risk and vulnerability
  • Attend special events and invite others to join you

To do this well requires a commitment of time, energy and focus.  Effective participation requires knowing your capacity and limiting the number of Boards on which you serve accordingly.   

We say “Just Do It!”  But with the caveat to first commit to doing it well.