By Kathryn Martin and Mary Baily Wieler
Navigating Leadership Transitions – a Series of Four Tips for Trustees:
#1: Leadership Transitions: Start Preparing…Now!
#2: Leadership Transitions: Employee Dynamics: A Road Map for Trustees
#3: Leadership Transitions: Be Confident – Be the Expert!
#4: Leadership Transitions: Build Relationships with your Candidates – one of them is your new Director
#1 – Leadership Transitions: Start Preparing… Now!
By: Mary Baily Wieler and Kathryn Martin
A leadership transition is in your Museum’s future; it’s a “given”. And yet, even with this awareness and good intentions, few museum boards are prepared when an executive change occurs. As a result, Trustees inadvertently put their institution at risk or, at minimum, lose the opportunity to leverage this moment strategically as they find themselves scrambling, struggling with decision-making, doing damage control in the media, and being re-active.
There are many good resources available on Succession Plans and Check-lists (Listed Below) to help Trustees create the necessary chain-of-command and decision-making protocols to be used. In this Tip, we add the larger context and provide actions that can be taken today to make your Museum strong so that it is prepared when the time for transition arrives.
Here are two areas of action to ensure you have the resources, decision-making protocols and a plan for creating a specific Succession Plan before you need them:
1. Create operational and governance structures, and resources today, which can prepare your museum to withstand (and thrive in) an eventual leadership transition. Invest. Now.
- Invest in a strong professional staff (now). As a trustee: Do you know if operationally, staff must rely on the Director for all key decisions within their area? What do they need to become empowered? Having a strong “number 2” leader in place can certainly be a part of a strategy, as well as ensuring there are strong staff throughout the organization. Trustees approve the museums’ budget and thus can support the current Director in preparing for transitions by building depth and breadth in the staff, investing in professional development, requiring management and accountability, and providing shared organizational budgets to foster understanding of how each department fits into the overall goals. Museum talent should be assessed annually to accurately identify long-term potential and critical competencies for each position. Are there leadership gaps in your museum now? If so, create a plan to remedy these gaps either through internal mentoring, professional development or external hires.
- Create consensus (now): Where is the Museum going and how are you going to get it there? It’s much easier if the Museum is on an exciting course (which should always be the case!), when a transition occurs. It can give everyone a sense of focus and determination to make the goal happen. It also helps create important context when determining the particular skills and attributes the next Director will need. Having a clear direction will provide opportunities to tell your story of continued momentum and success – including when you’re attracting qualified candidates. Take a three-year outlook- Ideally in the form of a living strategic plan, or at minimum it could be reaching consensus through facilitated annual Board Visioning Retreats.
- Build a strong, effective Board (now). During a time of leadership transition it is the Trustees who implement the Succession Plan. In some cases, this will be a big change in the leadership dynamic. Founders and long-time Directors may, through their successful leadership, have created a board dynamic that is not necessarily fully engaged in solving the challenges of operating the Museum. Practice good governance now, so that when Trustee leadership is needed later, your committees are strong. An objective Trustee self-assessment survey (like the one in MTA Publication “The Leadership Partnership”) can be a helpful way to gauge whether or not your Board is operating according to industry-recommended best practices, so that changes can be implemented.
- Research transition costs (now). Transitions cost money and take time. A lot of time. Prepare by doing your research on what costs you will likely face so the Board knows what it can afford (severance packages, farewell events, candidate recruitment, travel, criminal back-ground checks, hosted receptions and donor events, relocation costs, on-boarding, welcome receptions, and other events geared to introducing the new Director to the community). Talk to colleagues and research Executive Search firms and methodologies, and/or the often hidden costs of doing it on your own. Consider the benefits and costs of hiring a professional interim leader, as compared to other interim scenarios.
NOTE: In an Arts Consulting Group, Inc. (ACG) study(1) of more than 450 arts and culture organizations with CEO-level vacancies conducted during the early 2000s, results echoed what ACG experts throughout North America encounter on a regular basis. Almost 55% of all respondents indicated that the senior management executive gave (or was given) less than six weeks’ notice before their departure — with one-third giving (or being given) less than two weeks’ notice.
The ACG study also revealed that of the organizations that chose an existing staff member or board member to fill the interim role, 84% saw decreases in their contributed income during the transition period.
The instability (or perception of instability) created by the departure of a Director can affect the financial bottom-line, including loss of contributed income. It can also disrupt momentum and tarnish the organization’s relationship among key stakeholders if the gap between permanent leaders is not addressed thoughtfully. The intangible costs of a leadership void, whether planned or unplanned, coupled with the stress placed on the Board and staff, can take a toll that can create substantive challenges for the museum, the Search firm, and the Director who eventually takes the leadership role.
2. Establish an initial framework in which decisions will be made before it becomes necessary. How will decisions be made, by whom, and when? Although it is unrealistic to map out a specific transition plan before the change is known, the decisions you make today, while your team is still in place, will ensure that no matter what you encounter down the road you are as prepared as possible, and can take the swift action that may be needed.
The most crucial part to outline in detail now: What (specifically) do you want to occur in the first 6-24 hours of learning of a leadership change? The urgency in how/what you need to implement beyond the initial steps, will depend on your specific scenario, outlined below.
- Day 1 – 14: Determine what type of leadership transition you have, and choose a relevant response and action plan. Whether planned or unplanned, and whether months or a year from now, this is the moment when leadership roles shift slightly. Trustees have the responsibility, rather than the top executive leader, to collaborate with staff and to create and implement an integrated plan that ensures operational success and addresses the unique internal and external dynamics that exist during transition.
In the museum field, Boards typically face one of three scenarios:
1. A long-serving Executive or Founder announces his or her retirement. Determine how and when the transition will occur, how the Search will be conducted, and how the transition will be messaged. It is important to not only to honor the outgoing leader but to ensure that the Museum conveys its strong and exciting future!
2. A Director resigns to take a new position elsewhere with adequate notice but not enough time to perform a complete and effective search. Similar strategy to #1; with the additional need for leadership to be addressed during the interim period.
3. An organization’s leader resigns with little or no warning, circumstances require the Board to terminate his or her employment, or there is a sudden death or personal tragedy. This is a scenario where hours, rather than days or week, matter. Depending on the scenario, the Board may need legal representation, and the details leading to the departure may not be able to be made public. Convening an emergency Board or Executive Committee meeting may or may not be possible. Develop a list of the team needed (President, legal counsel, Press/Media professional) to make decisions and create the messages communicating to the Trustees, the staff, Social Media, stakeholders, and the press. The sudden vacancy creates an immediate need for interim leadership1 to fill the roles and responsibilities of the position and maintain organizational effectiveness.
- Day 7 – 14 Appoint and convene the Transition Committee, charged with navigating the time of transition and collaborating with senior staff and other transition specialists.
– Develop and approve the initial and subsequent strategic messaging and communications plan.
– Develop and guide the implementation of a Transition and Interim Strategy & Timeline.
While many Boards feel compelled to begin the executive search process as soon as a departure becomes a reality, others understand that time is required – especially if following a long-time leader – to evaluate both the organization’s strategic direction, resources and leadership attributes necessary to reach its aspirational goals. At a later date, a Search Committee can be formed and charged with finding the successor. This Committee should be ready to work in tandem with the Transition Committee as the search process evolves.
Does your Museum Board have a Succession Plan in place? Does it need to create one? Do make sure that you have the chain-of-command decision-making document in place – but don’t stop there. Continue to plan for the future by familiarizing yourself with the dynamics, strategies and resources needed to successfully navigate times of leadership transition. Create operational and governance structures today, to help you withstand (and even thrive in) an eventual leadership transition. Invest. Now.
1 “The Performing Arts in Transition: Executive Leadership on the Move.” Arts Insights. Bruce D. Thibodeau, 2002. http://www.artsconsulting.com/pdf_arts_insights/insights_sept_2002.pdf
Museum Trustee Association, Executive Transitions.
Order at http://www.museumtrustee.org/category/publications/.
Museum Trustee Association, The Leadership Partnership. Order at http://www.museumtrustee.org/category/publications/.
Korn Ferry, Succession Matters, 2015. http://www.kornferry.com/successionmatters.
Foundation Center, Succession Planning for Nonprofit Organizations: A Resource List, http://foundationcenter.org/getstarted/topical/succession.html.
National Council of Nonprofits, Succession Planning for Nonprofits, https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/tools-resources/succession-planning-nonprofits.
Texas Association of Museums, StEPs Resource: Texas Association of Museums Succession Plan, http://resource.aaslh.org/view/texas-association-of-museums-succession-plan/.
Transition Guides, Stepping Up, Staying Engaged: Succession Planning and Executive Transition Management for Nonprofit Boards of Directors, http://www.transitionguides.com/resources.
Kathryn R. Martin, San Diego-based management transition expert & Leadership Coach/Strategist
Passionate about helping organizations and individuals have the impact they envision, Kathryn R. Martin is a leadership coach & strategist, professional interim leader, and a frequent speaker and author on navigating personal, professional and organizational change. Martin was Vice President at Arts Consulting Group (ACG) from 2003-2015, and she has served in numerous Interim Executive Director roles, including the Linda Pace Foundation in San Antonio to launch the David Adjaye Ruby City building project; ArtPower!, the multi-arts presenter at the University of California San Diego; and Malashock Dance. Martin is currently Interim President & CEO of the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Milwaukee. Martin has supervised, trained, and coached more than 20 ACG professional interim executives placed in cultural organizations across the United States. She will be a featured speaker at MTA’s Spring 2016 Forum in San Juan, PR.