Leadership Change: Here's How to Make It as Painless as Possible
“It’s unfortunate, but more than half of CEO transitions are not well-managed in my mind. The current CEO drops off, and a new one drops in,” Tandon says. “Nonprofits are not like a Navy ship, where one commander can just jump in because they all follow the same protocols.”
The first 90 to 100 days for the new CEO are the most critical for success, Nardizzi and Tandon agree. The first 100 days are spent learning the basics of the organization, especially crucial for someone new to the organization. The next 100 days are spent in a deep dive of the what exactly the CEO is there to do — where he or she came from and where the organization would like to be. Then, the next year is when the new CEO can really begin to make an imprint on the nonprofit.
Nardizzi suggests the new CEO begin onboarding with the board of directors, meeting individually with each board member to gain insights into board members’ interests and expectations, as well as meeting with the entire board regularly to establish priorities and discuss progress over the first 90 days.
The new CEO should also spend significant time with senior management to “learn their management styles, gain perspective on what’s working and not in their departments, get to know what motivates them personally and professionally,” Nardizzi says.
“More time should initially be spent asking than telling. If you don’t understand the how and why things are working now, you’ll lack the buy-in and support you’ll need to affect positive change,” he adds.
Then, the new head should meet with other members of the organization to create an open dialogue and foster a true culture of philanthropy. The key is to promote collaboration, not stifle the systems already in place.