Did You Terminate Your CEO?

Here are five tasks to do a reset and get your nonprofit back on track

The circumstances surrounding most CEO terminations are usually more complicated than they appear. I’ll leave the termination process to the legal experts. Instead, this article covers how to put the organization back on track after the inevitable trauma of a CEO termination.

When a board fires or forces out its CEO, two human tendencies come into play: heap all the blame on the departed executive and rush to hire a new one.

When a board fires or forces out its CEO, two human tendencies come into play. The first is to heap all the blame on the departed executive—to link the organization’s problems to the perceived deficiencies of the former CEO. This attitude can blind the board to the other very real underlying problems that helped to precipitate the termination, including the board’s potential complicity in creating some of the circumstances that led to the departure.

The second tendency is to rush to hire a new executive. Lulled by the idea that the problems can all be traced back to the “flaws” of the former executive, the board often scrambles to hire their next CEO. Many begin by looking for someone who is something of a mirror opposite of the departed executive. Fresh off the heels of the termination, the board usually starts seeking candidates who have strengths where the departed CEO had weaknesses.

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Exits From the Top Episode #9 – Helping Your Successor Succeed

Welcome to Episode #9 of Exits From The Top. We willl be talking with Tom Adams of Raffa, PC in Washington, DC about how a departing executive can help pave the way for their successor to thrive in the role. We explore what a departing executive can do before, during and after a leadership transition to help ensure that their successor succeeds.

This is one wisdom-packed interview. Here are just a few highlights:

  • The importance of the departing executive gaining clarity about their departure.
  • The window of opportunity for organizational sustainability planning ahead of the transition.
  • The roles that leadership, strategy, business model, resources and culture play in organizational sustainability.
  • The importance of looking at the organization’s bench strength and how to do it.
  • The fact that leadership succession sometimes requires us to have courageous conversations.
  • The impact of executive sabbaticals.
  • The importance of getting beyond the hero model of leadership.
  • Striking a balance between encouraging leadership around you to step up, but still staying engaged.

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Tom is one of the foremost thought leaders on nonprofit leadership succession and transition. In addition to several decades of direct experience leading CEO transition projects, Tom spearheaded two national research and development projects on nonprofit leadership transitions. First, in the 1990s a project funded by the Kellogg Foundation, and in the early 2000s, a project supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The Casey project resulted in a number of research reports and a series of monographs on leadership transitions (links below).

Through these projects Tom has had a central role in training a generation of transition and succession consultants. He is the author of The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide: Proven Paths for Leaders and Organizations, which was published by Jossey Bass. He has also authored a number of articles published in the Nonprofit Quarterly, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and other publications.

None of us are here forever. How do we make sure that our important mission work is going to be sustained over time?

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Exits From the Top Episode #8 – Organizational Assessment: Getting the Whole Picture

Welcome to Episode #8 of Exits From The Top, a conversation with Sara Brenner, President of Community Wealth Partners. We will be discussing how to use organizational assessment to prepare for and guide the CEO succession.

While organizational assessment certainly is the theme, Sara also shares with us their “Six Key Drivers of Sustainability” model that frames their social impact assessment and strategy development work. Those drivers are:

  1. Social Impact Articulation – defining the impact or change that the organization intends to make in the world.
  2. Social Impact Outcomes – the specific measures that tell you whether or not you’ve made that impact or change.
  3. Focused Business Strategy – a strategy or plan to achieve the intended impact.
  4. Economic Viability – the financial viability of the organization.
  5. Capacity to Deliver – the organization’s capacity to deliver services that achieve the social impact outcomes.
  6. Adaptability – the organizations’s ability to learn and adapt.

In their model, the process is informed by robust engagement with partners and stakeholders. The organization has ongoing engagement with  stakeholders and partners in defining the outcomes, measuring results and retargeting efforts. As Sara points out in the interview, their model is focused on sustaining social impact rather than sustaining organizations per se. Below you’ll find a link to a graphic that outlines their sustainability model.

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Community Wealth Partners is a Washington, DC-based consulting firm that helps leaders reimagine what’s possible, create imaginative new ways to address social problems, and accelerate the pace of change. For more than 15 years Community Wealth Partners has helped diverse, inspiring change agents make lasting progress in their organizations and communities.

I’ve long admired Community Wealth Partners and its parent organization, Share Our Strength, for the fresh thinking and bold action that they bring to key social challenges. What I especially respect is their emphasis on scaling up and meeting social problems on their own level rather than nipping around the edges.

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Exits From the Top Episode #5 – Will Your Organization Thrive, Survive or Dive after CEO Succession?

Welcome to Episode #5 of Exits From the Top, which covers how to use organizational sustainability planning as an executive succession planning tool. A tool to add to your exit strategy to ensure that your nonprofit thrives after CEO succession.

What’s covered in this episode:

  • 6 building blocks of sustainability
  • 5 steps to a more sustainable future
  • Key sustainability questions to ask
  • Resources to help assess and plan

When this episode airs it will be early 2015. Perhaps you created a New Year’s resolution for yourself to start planning your exit strategy from your current role. What we’re going to cover  will go a long way to helping you fulfill that resolution.

For many executives it can be a challenge to figure out how to start preparing your organization for your eventual transition out of the CEO role. And it’s especially challenging if you aren’t ready to disclose your departure plans to your board of directors or your staff team just yet. We’re going to talk about two simple succession planning tools that not only will help you get the planning process started, but will help you begin to build the transition competency of your board and your senior management team. AND do it in a way that doesn’t force you to disclose your departure timetable. In fact, you can put these tools in place without even having a specific departure date in mind.

A lot of what we will be talking about today is focused on two planning documents that will be useful for you to have at hand as you watch or listen to this episode. You can grab copies of those documents – for free – by clicking on the “Guide and Templates” found later on this page.

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Exits From the Top Episode #2 – The Driving Role Strategy & Strategic Direction Play in Nonprofit CEO Transitions

Welcome to Episode #2 of Exits From the Top. We are continuing our series of conversations about the key elements of organizational sustainability and how to strengthen your organization ahead of your CEO transition. This week’s topic is strategy and strategic direction, and the driving role that they play in CEO succession planning and CEO transition. We will be talking with David La Piana, managing partner at La Piana Consulting, a nonprofit consulting firm based in Emeryville, California.

In addition to leading one of the most respected consulting firms in the country, David is one of the most prolific, clear and consistent thought leaders in the nonprofit sector today, especially when it comes to an organization’s business strategy, strategic direction and strategic challenges. David is the author of a number of books including, The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution: Real-Time Strategic Planning in a Rapid Response World. He’s also a co-author of The Nonprofit Business Plan: the Leader’s Guide to Creating a Successful Business Model. David is also widely recognized for his thought leadership on nonprofit mergers and strategic restructuring and has authored a number of articles and publications on this topic. Here’s a link to David’s bio and a link to La Piana Consulting.

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Review – The Sustainability Mindset

tsm-cvrReviewed by Don Tebbe

I pre-ordered this book as soon as I heard about it. I was expecting a sequel to Zimmerman and Bell’s earlier book, Nonprofit Sustainability. But The Sustainability Mindset is actually a successor to that important, earlier work. Available from Amazon.com.

My first impression is awe at the authors’ ability to pack so many rich ideas and useful tools into just 200 pages. Beyond the sage advice, I counted no less than 43 figures, 7 tables, 4 sample exhibits, 3 case studies and 23 templates.

The book walks you through a six-step sustainability planning process. As in their earlier work, the central tool of this book is the “matrix map,” a 2-axis, 4-quadrant table that plots the dual bottom-line of a nonprofit: mission impact and financial viability. The idea is that the leadership team assesses the organization’s programs and determines each program’s “profitability” and mission impact. The results are plotted on the matrix map, using circles that are scaled according to each program’s expenses. The composite map provides a comprehensive picture of the organization’s business model. See the example below.

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