Leadership transition can be tough work for a board of directors, particularly if they didn’t lay the groundwork and prepare before it happened. As soon as the hiring process is complete, some members are so tapped out and tired that they are all too happy to hand the keys over to the new leader and pronounce, “Here, it’s all yours! Work your magic!” leaving the individual to fend for his or herself. Without a clear, shared and documented understanding of the priorities and what needs to be done, the new CEO is not set up to succeed—no matter how experienced that person is.
Onboarding is necessary in bringing on a new leader if you want to avoid an “accidental interim” rather than a long-term leader. Onboard coaching works to reduce CEO turnover, establishes a foundation for long-term success, fosters effective CEO/board relationships, and aligns the strategic vision and organizational priorities. It’s what it takes to get your new leadership started off on the right foot.
Even Great Leaders Need Guidance.
The onboarding process has been shown to be effective in the private sector, and is now becoming a best, although far from normalized, practice in the nonprofit world. Despite the increasing awareness that onboarding works, many CEOs report receiving little to no board support when first entering their position. Failure to provide onboarding support is one of the most significant ways that boards regularly underperform—and through no fault of their own. Successful onboarding requires that your board know what is expected of them, which many don’t. They are unaware of their responsibility concerning the early stages of new leadership after hiring is complete. Think of it as buying a new plant: without water and care it’s not going to thrive, no matter how beautiful it looks when you first bring it home. The same is true of leaders: without guidance in their new role, they are not going to thrive in their ability to drive a mission forward.
Boards Need Onboarding Coaching Too.
Board members come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences—but nonprofit management skills and governance may not be among them. That’s where a coach or consultant comes in. Onboarding coaching is effective for both the new leader and the board in helping to navigate the challenges of a leadership transition. The task is to try and translate often-intangible concerns about transition into an action plan for moving forward. An advisor can create strategic and organizational structures that a board can then use to successfully engage in onboarding.
Proactively Plan For The Inevitable
A Guide To Leadership Transition & Succession
In working with a consultant, you can develop an onboarding plan that seeks to:
- Define performance objectives
- Identify early stage priorities
- Establish long term goals
- Identify the elements of culture that are important to success
- Set out clear expectations of the board, CEO, and staff
- Provide coaching on engagement from the board chair
- Create evaluation systems
- Engage funders in backing an onboarding program
Ultimately, the goal is to set your leader up for long-term success. With the right onboarding coaching, great leaders can drive a mission forward. With no coaching, they are left to flounder in unfamiliar territory. A board that is informed, knows its roles, and has an onboarding plan, is equipped to facilitate success.