A Q&A with Jeffrey Wilcox, Third Sector Company CEO and President
Any employment transition comes with its difficulties, but changes in leadership, especially for short periods of time, can be especially challenging. While navigating this process, especially in the nonprofit sector, it’s important to keep your organization’s “vision,” its overlying goals and what you want to accomplish at the end of the day, in mind. Here are some insights Third Sector Company’s CEO Jeffrey Wilcox has shared about maintaining the vision through a leadership transition:
Question 1: How can nonprofit leaders who are planning transitions help their successors succeed?
Answer 1: The best gift a departing or retiring nonprofit leader can give to the staff, board members, volunteers and contributors is a thoughtful transition. The best transitions include a timeline and a detailed process that begins with the announcement of a departure through the engagement of a successor.
That timeline should include: A communications strategy, a fitting departure for the current leader, naming a transition team, securing an interim leader, and outlining the search process and its participants. Completion of important details and milestones such as completing an agency inventory of vital information, approving a revised job description for the successor, establishing job performance measurements for the interim, confirming search committee recruitment and responsibilities, and finalizing the on-boarding processes for the new interim and successor leaders is also vital.
Question 2: How can staff help to facilitate a positive planned transition in a nonprofit organization?
Answer 2: Change is never easy. Nonprofit organizations enjoy close working relationships between staff, volunteers and community members which can often make a leadership transition appear disruptive and a time of emotional reaction.
“In order to ‘maintain the vision,’ staff play a vital role in making sure that their attention stays directed on the mission so that everyone is reminded, even though change is occurring, what’s most important in serving the community.” Staff members are trusted voices. They know how things work and are important resources to help to complete processes. A Staff and Volunteer Leaders Communications Strategy is critical during an executive transition so that facts are shared, rather than speculation. Staff members who see themselves as a “resources” for creating a positive transition will provide a valuable contribution to the change process.
Question 3: What are some ways you can maintain “the vision” or overlying goals while navigating this type of transition?
Answer 3: “Have a clear vision before any announcement of a leadership transition.”
It is far easier to maintain “the vision,” if it was made clear prior to any announcement of a leadership transition. Nonprofit organizations that aren’t clear about their mission and the goals that must be achieved in order to make their mission a reality for the community will be especially challenged during a leadership transition. During transition, it’s very important that gatherings and conversations take place to inform people about the transition process and underscore how important it is to remain focused on the cause.
“Additionally, try beginning meetings with ‘Mission Moments’ or stories of why the organization is valuable to people, both to those in the organization as well as those in the community.” It is helpful to work with an interim during the transition process to make sure that the mission doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of transition.
Question 4: How can you define goals and vision to make this process easier and more clear?
Answer 4: It’s a “mapping process.” There are the goals that need to be accomplished for a smooth transition and there are other goals that must be accomplished in order to meet the needs of the community and advance the organization simultaneously.
“We recommend that goal-setting during a transition should be undertaken in 90-day increments.” That means becoming master of short-term planning, which is useful skill not often found in organizations that think only in terms of annual or multi-year approaches. Having the organization understand what must be accomplished over a shorter period of time is critical. Then, meeting often to discuss any changes of course during an uncertain period is key. The “vision” is a constant, the goals, however, are moving targets during transition which means more discussion, planning, evaluation and feedback is vital.
Leadership transitions can be challenging, but good planning, goal setting, and strong communications can make them easier. For more information about finding high quality, interim leaders for your nonprofit, contact Third Sector Company today!