Leadership Changes: Crisis or Opportunity?

Date April 29, 2022
Categories

Everyone is talking about the “great resignation,” many calling it the “great quit.” Unfortunately, exempt organizations haven’t been exempted from the trend.

The Canby (Oregon) Area Chamber of Commerce’s widely respected Executive Director Kyle Lang announced his resignation in January 2022, saying, “The last two years have taught me a lot about resilience, about the power of staying limber and loose and able to adapt in crises.” Nonprofit Quarterly has reported the average term for small and mid-sized nonprofit organization executive directors is six years. Many say the pandemic will only hasten leadership departures and retirements.

A leadership transition may come as a surprise or as part of a long-term plan. In any case, the job of the board is to move swiftly to make the transition in a smooth and controlled manner. Ideally, the departure of a leader, whether a CEO, executive director, COO, CFO, or other management team leader, should be managed by an existing succession plan. In writing for the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, contributors Melanie Lockwood Herman and Erin Gloeckner identify succession planning as “a critical risk management issue for every board … a planning process that will ensure the health of your nonprofit during and after a leadership change.”

Large and small nonprofits often have some form of a strategic plan, and a best practice is to include succession planning for the CEO and other organization leaders in that plan. Yet fewer than half of nonprofits actually have documented succession plans. Why? Perhaps because the board fears saying to its valuable CEO or executive director, “We’re going to talk about a succession plan for you.” Best-practice strategic planning lessens this anxiety by focusing succession planning not only on one position like the CEO or executive director but on all the management team and the board.

Experts advise that any succession plan is better than none, but multiple plans should be developed based on the circumstances surrounding the leader’s departure. The transition process differs depending on the reason behind the departure, whether it is prompted by an emergency, termination, extended medical leave, resignation, planned retirement, or another reason. The organization should develop transition plans for all leadership positions and all reasons for departures.

The Planned Departure

The planned departure allows for a thoughtful process of saying good-bye to one leader and welcoming a new leader. The entire process should be grounded in keeping the mission at the forefront of all decisions. The governance documents should be reviewed for board policies regarding the approved transition process, assuming there is one. Given that the hiring of a CEO or executive director often takes six months or longer, a timeline for the transition should be outlined and documented, and a transition team formed to manage the process.

It is vital to understand the roles and responsibilities of the outgoing leader. A detailed position description may already be part of the leader’s annual review. Is it complete? Has it changed recently? Is the position description both people- and task-specific? It is also critical to consider a new executive in light of the goals of the organization. Is the organization looking to expand, change direction, adjust priorities, increase fundraising efforts, or change its communication strategies? Does your next leader have the skills to accomplish those goals?

Often missed in leadership changes is the passing on of institutional knowledge, including the contact list of the outgoing leader. Who gets the proverbial Rolodex? If a new leader has been identified and introductions can be made, both the new leader and the contact are likely to feel more comfortable with the transition.

It is important to communicate wisely. Identifying who needs to know, what they should hear, and who should make the announcement of a departure is vital. First, identify spokespeople regarding this news. The circumstances of the departure will control the messaging and its timing. It is important to communicate the planned transition with key stakeholders, including board members, staff members, donors, partners, the community, and the media. The transition team must realize the word will get out, so the organization needs to be upfront with its message, focusing on the organization’s stability, continuity, and sustainability during the transition. Consider how these messages resonate: “The Board of Directors announces and congratulates our outgoing CEO on their outstanding leadership. We are excited to begin our search for a new leader.” That is, we’ve got this covered, and we’re ready.

Or as Kyle Lang said it so eloquently, “I will be sad to no longer fill my role, as I did, but I’m not going far. You will still see me around town on occasion doing community work, so stay tuned.” That is, I’m not abandoning you.

The Unexpected Departure

The unplanned departure can be the result of an emergency, extended medical leave, death, or termination. In these instances, it is the job of the board to move swiftly to make the transition as smooth and controlled as possible. One of the most important objectives in an unexpected departure is to keep the remaining team intact and to keep morale as high as possible. So tell the staff immediately and be professional with the message. And remember, some confidentiality regarding the circumstances of the departure might be needed, especially in the case of a termination. A senior leader’s departure can create uncertainty for the staff, but any accompanying chaos can often be lessened by senior team members. The board should immediately meet with the current staff and identify team members who might be ready and willing to step up, whether in an “acting” role or in a permanent position. The board will need to identify who will fill in and in what capacity. Can the role be shared by more than one existing team member? Depending on which leadership role is being vacated, a variety of experience, skills, and personalities might be needed. Consider the different talents required of a CEO, CFO, or Development Director. Specific responsibilities should be assigned to qualified individuals during the transition. You might hire an outside professional, if temporarily. No one should doubt that the operations of the organization are continuing, the programs are ongoing, and the organization is proceeding confidently into the future.

The board should explain the process of identifying the next leader to the team. Will there be a search? Who will be conducting it—the board, a search firm, a consultant? Will internal candidates be considered? Many organizations use a process called “collaborative hiring,” which allows relevant departmental or functional teams to be part of the selection process. Also called “team-based hiring,” the process allows the organization to hear the perspectives of diverse team members and promotes “ownership” among the team. As the process continues, it will be important to stay in touch with all the stakeholders, to be as open and transparent as possible.

Culture Matters

Whether the departure is planned or not, it is extremely important that the transition team consider the culture of the organization and realize much of the current culture may be tied directly to the resigning team member. Where employees are empowered to work and make decisions either on their own or in teams, a domineering leader might negatively and severely impact that culture. On the other hand, if the team is used to the leader making all the decisions, the staff might not be able to make decisions independently. Chaos can ensue and result in significant turnover— culture matters. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t define their culture in their documents, policies, or manuals.

The story of an outgoing leader

A long-time HBK client, a statewide organization, recently lost their CEO to their national organization. The transition needed to be quick, and their active board was ready and moved quickly. The outgoing CEO was confident she had developed a senior leadership team that would effectively manage the organization and was able to step away to her new role. The messages were clear: From the CEO to the board, “They can do this”; and from the management team, “We can do this.” Lucky organization. While the new leader is still being identified, the board, donors, and community can rest assured that the organization is in good hands.

Not all nonprofits are so lucky, but there are some lessons in the story. Develop bench strength. Be ready with a transition process— communication and culture matter. Act swiftly. Look to the future. And always support the mission.

Read the full Spring issue of Insights, the HBK Nonprofit Solutions quarterly newsletter.

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Wellfit Girls: Leadership, Fitness and Empowerment for Girls

Date February 24, 2022
Authors Ashlynn Reeder
Categories

A Q&A with Brooke Spencer, Executive Director, Wellfit Girls Program SWFL, Inc., and Ashlyn Reeder, HBK Nonprofit Solutions

Founded in 2014 to inspire teen girls to climb high in all areas of life, Wellfit Girls Program SWFL, Inc. is a unique and meaningful leadership, fitness, and empowerment nonprofit organization specifically designed to empower teen girls to believe they can do anything; to believe in themselves. The curriculum challenges teen girls to step out of their comfort zone and become confident and empowered leaders, teaching them interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, vision and goals, body positivity, and bold leadership.

Some programs conclude with a life-changing expedition where the participants are challenged physically and mentally while hiking with heavy packs in a changing alpine environment. Wellfit Girls follows a curriculum that guides teens through a combination of physical, mental, and interpersonal challenges designed to prepare them for the final expedition and the rest of their life. The struggles they experience on the mountain correlate to life struggles they may currently have or may have in future years and learn they can accomplish anything they put their mind to. The goal is to inspire and empower each girl while nurturing and developing each girl’s individual leadership style. They are building strong women to be our future leaders.

Reeder. The organization is still relatively young, having been founded in 2014. What has been the biggest challenge to date?

Spencer. I would say our biggest challenge is showing the community what we do and clearly defining who we are and the impact we have. Most people are accustomed to seeing quantitative data on the impact of an organization, whereas we have qualitative data on how our programs impact the girls we serve in the long term. We’re an organization that offers programs for all girls who want to learn leadership skills, gain confidence, and learn more about themselves. We believe all girls are “at-risk” to meet their full potential, and girls from all backgrounds have proven to benefit from the programs we offer. Our core philosophy has always been to serve one girl for an extended period so that we can make a sustainable, lifelong impact in that girl’s life. Wellfit Girls takes that core philosophy and expands it so we can operate on a larger scale.

There are also so many different aspects to what we do that defining it in one sentence is difficult to do. We have a holistic approach to wellbeing and reflect that in our programs and really aim to fill in all the gaps in these girls’ education and life.

Reeder. It is a more difficult mission to communicate, but as you said, the impact of the organization is more qualitative than quantitative. What are some of the longlasting impacts of the organization on the girls who go through the programs?

Spencer. When I’m asked this, I think about individual stories. One girl, for example, just went through yoga teacher training with myself and other facilitators and had been getting straight A’s in college. Before joining Wellfit Girls a few years ago, she never thought she’d even go to college as she had little to no support, was in the foster care system, and was a very shy and insecure Wellfit Girls follows a curriculum that guides teens through a combination of physical, mental, and interpersonal challenges that prepare them for the hiking expedition and ultimately the rest of their lives. teenager. She took the tools she acquired from our program and is now financially independent, succeeding in college and teaching yoga classes as a 20-year-old.

Another example that comes to mind is quite the opposite; where this girl came who to us from a stable family, was more of a “cool” kid and wasn’t sure what her goals were in life. Now she’s graduated from cosmetology school, is considering going to a four-year college, is very sure about what does and doesn’t serve her, and goes after what she wants.

There are so many other examples of girls who benefit in completely different ways; some graduate high school when they are at risk not to, some go to more challenging colleges than they originally considered, some enter male-dominated career fields, some become personal trainers and health advocates building upon what they learned during our programs, and many become active in the community and the nonprofit industry as volunteers or employees. I can share that most teen girls we serve ultimately build trust, confidence, resilience, optimism, and self-reflection as a result of the program. They have more positive and deeper relationships with peers and adults and believe they can do more than they ever thought they could. We aren’t a one-size-fits-all organization. Every girl will take something different away, which is what makes Wellfit Girls so special.

Reeder. These are all great examples and such moving individual stories. Now that the programs have been running for seven years, do Alumni play a role in how the organization operates?

Spencer. Yes, we have Alumni who are now serving as facilitators to our programs and as peer mentors. We recently established an Alumni Advisory Council, which operates similar to other youth boards, where a group of Alumni has been established as a council and has regular meetings. A representative of the council sits in at every Board of Directors meeting and gives a participant perspective to the issues the board discusses. Already the Alumni Advisory Council has established a $1,000 scholarship fund, performed fundraising, is assisting with recruiting, and doing what they can to support the organization in the capacity they’re able to.

Reeder. You recently went through and restructured your program operations, making the programs more accessible to a larger group of girls. Can you explain that process? What did you find to be your biggest hurdle in achieving this change?

Spencer. One of my strengths is strategic planning, and I think it’s really important for an executive director to think about the long-term sustainability of an organization and make decisions that inform that sustainability.

We’ve always struggled to get people to see the sustainability of our pinnacle five-month program because we focus all of our energy on making a lifelong transformational impact on a small number of students. What we’ve realized is that we now have the capability for accessing more girls and have started working with them at a younger age, for shorter periods of time, which leads them into our larger five-month program option.

I spent a lot of time creating a plan for the organization through evaluating our challenges and strengths that would allow us to continue to offer the five-month program while also offering shorter, less expensive, focused programs for girls to choose from. This also serves to fill in the gap of those girls who may not be able to commit to our full five-month program.

I think it’s important for an organization to regularly evaluate how they’re operating and whether it’s still sustainable, and to also seek out and bring in those with fresh perspectives into the organization.

Reeder. HBK is excited to see the next chapter of your organization. Wellfit Girls has been working with us since its inception. How has your experience with our firm impacted the organization and its goals?

Spencer. Working with HBK, and you specifically, has been one of the more consistent things we’ve had as an organization. You’ve consistently been the professional support we need, from helping us through financial challenges to making sure that we’re staying compliant as a nonprofit organization. We know that if we need your help, you’ll be there for us and that what you take on is one less thing we have to worry about because we know you’ll get it done, and you’ll get it done right. It’s such a huge value for us to have that kind of support and guidance; we couldn’t do what we do without it.

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Elevate Your Dealership Podcast: The Auto Business Today – Observations from Inside a Dealership

In this week’s podcast Tim will venture away from our normal format and focus on facts surrounding the auto business today. Observations from inside the dealership and suggestions to keep attitudes high and staff motivated.

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Elevate Your Dealership Podcast: Succeeding as a First Time Manager

Date October 5, 2021
Authors HBK CPAs & Consultants
Categories

In this week’s podcast Tim will review the best practices that will start you down the right path on your new journey as a dealership manager.

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Elevate Your Dealership Podcast: Building Your Growth Strategy

Date September 22, 2021
Authors HBK CPAs & Consultants
Categories

In this week’s podcast, Tim Parsons shows you growth opportunities that will help your dealership not just survive but thrive.

Running a successful business requires skills in many areas. If you develop these skills, you will have a good chance for success. Listen and learn how to turn your challenges into opportunities.

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Elevate Your Dealership Podcast: Working ON vs. Working IN Your Dealership

Date September 7, 2021
Authors HBK CPAs & Consultants
Categories

As a response from our clients like you, we are moving to a bi-weekly podcast format. You can listen in now or later, making it easier for you to catch HBK Dealership Solutions insights on-the-go. Each session will be approximately 10-15 minutes.

In this week’s podcast, Tim will explain the difference between working in vs on your dealership, determining your business priorities,attributes of great employee, how to maintain and have a great work environment and the difference between goals and objectives.

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Elevate Your Dealership Podcast: How to be a True Leader in Your Dealership

Date August 20, 2021
Authors HBK CPAs & Consultants
Categories

Announcing the HBK Dealership Solutions: Elevate Your Dealership Podcast.

As a response from our clients like you, we are moving to a bi-weekly podcast format. You can listen in now or later, making it easier for you to catch HBK Dealership Solutions insights on-the-go. Each session will be approximately 10-15 minutes.

In this podcast, Tim Parsons, Manager of HBK Dealership Solutions, will explain the characteristics and responsibilities of successful leaders.

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Watch: From Survive to Thrive – Three Keys to Leading a Multi Generational Workforce

Date June 26, 2020
Authors
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Michael Ross of HBK High Performance as he discusses the Three Keys to Leading a Multi-Generational Workforce. The Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Centennials: Diverse backgrounds working together can present difficulties and decrease morale. However, each generation has a unique perspective and distinguished gift to bring to the marketplace. Let’s learn to work synergistically rather than divisively by unifying these generations towards a happier, more productive and forward-thinking team.

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Watch: From Survive to Thrive – Strategic Planning – Establishing & Executing Your Vision

Date June 19, 2020
Authors
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Michael Ross of HBK High Performance and Amy Reynallt of HBK CPAs & Consultants discuss determining a vision, strategy, and plan, and ensuring proper execution.

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Watch: HBK High Performance Leading a Comeback Regroup, Revive, and Rally

Date May 1, 2020
Authors
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The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us against the wall. Leaders everywhere have searched for answers on how to combat the effects of this crisis. Through the global humanitarian effort of social distancing we have reduced the effects of the virus. We will win this war against COVID-19.

In this session we discuss how to lead a comeback. Specifically, how to do these three things:

REGROUP – Getting your team reconnected with specific practices
REVIVE – Reinvigorating your team towards common goals and shared ideas
RALLY – Clarifying your plan of attack out of this crisis.

Presenter: Michael B. Ross, Principal of HBK High Performance

Michael is a leadership expert and coach who has helped hundreds of businesses build strong organizational cultures through developing strong leaders.

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