Sitting in the back of the room at the July ’07 summer Board meeting, I was thinking about the sun and surf at the Jersey shore, basking in the glow of my retirement from the hard work of association management as your Immediate Past-president. I, like many, enjoy watching folks who are hard at work and this day was no exception, as Board members wrestled with issues affecting our business. This was the day my guard was down, which is especially dodgy in a volunteer setting. I should know better. The Board decided to create an Executive Director Search Committee to get the job done of finding our new executive director and asked me to chair the task.
Hiring an ED to fit ASHI’s culture
As every committee chair knows, the work product it generates is only as good as the folks who create it. The more diverse the committee makeup and varied the opinions that shape the product out of committee, the wider the audience of acceptance. In my many years in committee work, I’ve found this to be especially true for the home inspector community. The makeup of the Executive Director Search Committee couldn’t have been more diverse or opinionated — just how it should be.
How do you avoid hiring someone who is a square peg and your association is a round hole? The process of hiring an executive director is more complex than we imagined, and the committee quickly realized the need for professional guidance. Since this was a new experience for most of us on the committee, we organized a subcommittee workgroup to sift through the many consultants in the Chicagoland area who could help us through the process. Bill Richardson headed the subcommittee and recommended TransitionGuides (TG). The Board of Directors approved the selection in October ’07, and the committee now had professional guidance to avoid the many pitfalls in our quest to find the right fit.
Under the instructions of TG, the ED Search Committee spent considerable time reviewing, learning and developing a competency-based interview process. We applied that process to a carefully selected group of candidates, pre-screened by TG through a series of telephone conference calls, then finally a face-to-face interview conducted at ASHI headquarters in Des Plaines. Armed with the qualities and skills ASHI desires, our consultants pre-screened more than 50 applicants and telephone-interviewed over 30 candidates before selecting a handful to pick from.
By relying on the guidance of a professional consultant group, the committee was able to streamline the process, which resulted in saving ASHI valuable human and financial resources.
Cream floats to the top
The committee unanimously selected Jeff Arnold from among a qualified group of contenders as ASHI’s new ED. We immediately recognized his demeanor and manner as a good fit for our culture, a culture that includes staff, membership and leadership, and the outside world we interact with. He is a strong people person. His interpersonal skills were realized by each person during the phone interviews and especially face to face at the interview table. When asked how he would deal with conflict resolution on the Board, his response was a natural one … “the same way I deal with conflicts at home with my eight children.” And with that response, ASHI found its round peg and a good fit for our association.
I want to publicly recognize the volunteers who worked on this committee: Don Nelson, Bill Loden, Bill Richardson, Brion Grant, Charles Gifford, David Tamny, Frank Lesh, Mark Cramer and Bill Coull (Alternate). It was my pleasure to work with a group so professional that it received compliments from a few of the candidates during the process.
ASHI Reporter online bonus:
Welcoming the New Executive Director – Embracing the Future
by Don Tebbe and Victor Chears, email@example.com, TransitionGuides
One of an organization’s major challenges and opportunities is going through the process of hiring a new executive director. Whether the previous executive had been there for a couple of years or was the founder, the new leader enters a situation where he/she must navigate a complex web of history, relationships and expectations from all of the organization’s key stakeholders – board, staff and members. This article is intended to shed light on the challenges so that they can be managed more successfully as well as highlight the opportunities for an effective launch with a new executive director.
History has shown that one of the principal reasons that executive directors prematurely leave a newly acquired job is lack of alignment between the board and executive about their organization’s strategic direction and key priorities. TransitionGuides has assisted numerous organizations in developing a leadership agenda that can help build alignment and ensure that stakeholders are working together toward shared aims and a mutually agreed upon approach. These efforts have significantly reduced instances of premature departure.
Read the full article, a members-only online bonus, at www.ASHIReporter.org.
Creating a Leadership Agenda
The principal purpose of the leadership agenda is to identify the organization’s key priorities and create an action plan that will provide focus, clarity and transparency during the early tenure of the executive director, typically the first 12 to 18 months.
Developing the agenda has several purposes. It seeks to:
1. Align the executive, board and staff around the key priorities for the first year with a strong focus on expectations and realistic outcomes.
2. Provide a structure for the executive’s “settling in” period so that he/she can quickly identify the inevitable time and priority demands that must be addressed.
3. Reduce the learning curve so that the executive can get up to speed.
4. Create a backdrop for understanding constituent issues to provide quality customer service and set the stage for buy-in.
5. Provide an objective basis for measuring the performance of the executive and the board in a mutually accountable way.
The first draft of the leadership agenda is usually completed after the executive director’s first month when he/she has had time to meet with staff, board, members, and vendors as well as review key documents (e.g., policies, contracts, committee priorities, etc.). It is critical to success, during this initial period, that the executive be allowed to learn and absorb the job in their own way. This is often a difficult period for board, staff and members because of the pent-up desire to have the leader “hit the ground running.” Therefore, it is crucial for success that all stakeholders to look at how to invest in a successful beginning.
Creating A Social Contract
The leadership agenda serves as a catalyst for what we call a “social contract” – that is, mutually determined agreements that delineate and clarify roles, responsibilities, and priorities. As the executive director begins to get acclimated to the organization we recommend an intentional discussion between the executive and the board that focuses on establishing clarity on where the organization is headed and who is responsible for what. The absence of such a “contract” usually allows for misunderstandings, false starts, and wasted time and resources.
In the beginning everyone is focused on success which is both positive and desirable. The tendency, however, is for the executive to dive in and follow the wisdom of their experience which may not be compatible with the ideas or needs of the board and membership. The board and membership also tend to believe that they “know for certain” what the executive should be doing and get impatient when they do not see results in the timetable they feel is most beneficial.
Success is, undoubtedly, influenced by early actions and decisions, but there is more to the equation. Those actions and decisions must also fit into a context that is mindful of perceptions, expectations, and agreed upon aims, objectives and priorities. Further, it is critical to clarify roles and responsibilities, and establish timetables and performance criteria. All of these must be openly articulated and put in writing.
Managing the Early Challenges
To have a successful launch and effectively establish the leadership agenda and social contract, the executive, board, and membership should be aware of the challenges that may impede success. Our experience has shown that the following are particularly important to look out for and address accordingly:
The Executive’s Early Challenges
- Understanding the organization, its key stakeholders and quickly acquiring knowledge
- Establishing solid working relationships
- Setting good priorities while taking into consideration
– The demand for change and strategic decision-making
– The need to effectively manage expectations
- Building a coalition for change
- Avoiding the tendency to know it all, “pulling rabbits out of hats,” and not allowing others to provide assistance
- Maintaining personal equilibrium and well-being.
The Board’s Early Challenges
- Shifting gears after the search and finding energy to:
– Proactively address the important relationship-building work
– Launch and support their new executive
- Being clear and open on the organizations strengths and challenges
- Adjusting to new executive’s leadership style
- Attending to the trust-building phase
– Avoiding the polarities of micromanagement and excessive confidence
– Balancing the desire to be helpful while trusting the executive’s process
- Avoiding “savior thinking” or dealing with buyer’s remorse
- Ensuring that legacy issues of the previous executive’s tenure and/or “thinking ruts” (e.g., “we’ve always done it that way”) don’t derail the work.
The Membership’s Early Challenges
- Curbing the immediate “need to know” who the executive is, how he/she thinks, and what he/she plans on doing to serve the membership
- Allowing the new executive to learn at his/her own pace and having patience before change occurs
- Waiting a reasonable amount of time before contacting the executive and not taking it personally when he/she appears to not respond quickly enough.
Making for a Successful Launch and Welcome
Organizations exist in a sea of relationships and agreements that frame its transactions. It is incumbent on everyone to realize that open and clear communication will help form a solid infrastructure for those relationships and agreements to thrive. It is particularly important that the board celebrate having done its job well through its hiring process, and recognize that the early relationship-building work will pay dividends down the road. The membership must embrace the new leader and seek to invest in his/her success through positive reinforcement and open-mindedness. With all parties pulling together the new executive will not only feel welcomed but work hard to build trust and mutuality that allow the goals of the organization to be met and exceeded.