Are you a first time CEO or the top executive at a new organization? I’ve had the privilege to serve as CEO for both a nonprofit and social enterprise.
Being a leader of a nonprofit takes a lot of thought. Times are changing quickly and in today’s fast-paced world, you have staff, donors and others demanding more and more of your organization. Funders large and small want to see impact and results. Your team wants to see success. There’s always a lot to do.
If I were starting out as a first-time or new CEO, there are several things I would do to earn trust right from the start.
- Conversations – Talk to everyone. If you’re new to an organization, set aside time and go through a couple of weeks of meetings. It’s worth the time and effort to schedule individual meetings with your board members and direct reports. Then, if you happen to have a larger staff, schedule a number of meetings with your entire team or departments. A colleague of mine started as a new executive and called a number of meetings with her team. The first one was to introduce herself and she encouraged staff to ask her questions. During that first meeting, she fielded questions about her vision, how she planned to approach her first few months and even what she enjoyed doing on her time off. All of these conversations were important. They helped connect her with the team. The board meetings she had helped her understand the governance challenges the organization was facing. It also informed her as to who the influencers were on the board. Once those initial meetings are complete, meet with board members, major donors and staff on a regular basis. Understand who the influencers are in key constituency groups. Engage and dialogue with them.
- Transparency – Being transparent is one of the most important ways to keep tongues from wagging. If you want to “lower” the politicking, be open and transparent. Even if you don’t have the answer at a specific point in time, acknowledge suggestions and concerns. Keep the channels of communication open. Let your board and team members, in particular, understand how you plan to approach an issue. Even when you don’t have the answer to something, you will achieve a lot by explaining how you plan to approach a particular challenge or topic. By speaking openly and telling people what you’re thinking and how you plan to do things, you are instilling confidence in your ability to get the job done. This models behavior that you, in turn, want your team to demonstrate. Be transparent and clear.
- 90 Days – Set a plan for your first 90 days. Typically, when executives join organizations they want to observe and look under the hood, so to speak. As a new CEO, you want to understand the lay of the land before you begin to make any changes. However, by laying out a 90-day plan, you are helping to ease any concerns and stress. Remember, when a new CEO comes on board, there’s typically a lot of stress on staff. They may be uncertain. They may believe that their jobs are at stake or perhaps their duties and responsibilities will change. People are creatures of habit. They don’t typically like a lot of disruption and change. Good business, however, sometimes dictates that things be tweaked or changed. You really don’t know what and if change is necessary until you take a look at things for yourself. So, give people a clear plan of action that you will be executing during your first 90 days. This will lower any unease. As I mentioned before, be transparent on how you’re approaching things as you do them. And, finally, when you have concluded your 90 days, share what you’ve learned. Inform people why you’re making any changes.
Author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: The Rise and Fail of Charities and What You Can Do To Be Ready” (Free Digital Download)
© 2016 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.