By Mary Baily Wieler and Kathryn R. Martin
Some of the most transformational moments for a Museum may come when it is in a moment of transition. At this time, you are acutely aware of pressing issues and knowing it is not in status quo mode. Selecting strong Search Leadership and clarifying and communicating your strategic priorities for the future can contribute to the museum’s momentum through the transition.
Forming the Search Committee
MTA believes that keeping the Search Committee small benefits the process. A team of 6-8 works well, streamlines the interview process and keeps confidentiality under control. Committee members should be carefully selected, with the understanding that the position requires a great deal of time and discretion.
“Each Search Committee Member is bound by the highest level of confidentiality. Each candidate who applies for the position is in a position of great vulnerability. The identity of the candidates, the discussions about them, the interviews, and the reasoning of the Search Committee all need to remain completely confidential. Remember: The candidate you want may be gainfully and happily employed elsewhere, and his or her ability to maintain the relationship with that employer is affected by the way the candidacy is handled.” (2)
A Strong Search Committee Includes:
- A Search Committee Chairman: The Board Chairman should select the Search Committee Chairman. Ideally, the Search Committee Chairman will be in a board leadership role once the new director is selected. Because the Board Chairman needs to focus on oversight of the museum during this transition phase, he or she should not be the Search Committee Chairman. However, the Board Chairman can still serve on the committee at a different capacity. If possible, the Search Committee Chairman should be someone who has been involved with a nonprofit leadership search in the past, and has experience in engaging others and building a consensus during a transition.
- 5-7 Committee Members: Select these individuals carefully. They will be the first faces that candidates see, so ensure that its composition sends a positive message about the museum board. Consider diversity in gender, ethnicity, age, skill sets and viewpoints about organizational needs of the museum when inviting people to join this team. Search Professional Marilyn Hoffman warns that “Those who are dying to volunteer may not be your best choices,” and insists that members are “ready to commit the time it takes to get the job done anywhere from 6 to 9 months at a minimum.” (1) MTA and most search professionals recommend the Committee be comprised of current and former trustees.
Your Search Committee Should NOT Include:
- Staff members, donors, or volunteers. While these stakeholders can, and should, participate in surveys and interviews about their vision for a new leader and can facilitate in conducting an Institutional assessment and creating the Position Description, the “Staff should not hire its boss.” (1). Staff and Volunteer involvement on the Search Committee can put the Board in the difficult position of balancing their vision with that of the Staff and can make the final decision unnecessarily, or even detrimentally, difficult. While it is important that these same stakeholders play a critical role in the final transition phase (Discussed in Topic 4 of these Tips for Trustees Series) in welcoming the new Director to the museum and community, they should not sit on the committee.
Should You Hire a Search Firm?
Many boards benefit from hiring an executive search firm, which can coach the Search Committee through the process and help it stay focused on the issues that are central to the hiring decision. In addition to maintaining extensive databases of prospective candidates successful search firms have a vast network of industry contacts and museum professionals who are seeking new opportunities - as well as those who are successfully leading organizations who may NOT be looking at the moment -and are able to match individuals with a specific position. These firms can help draft the Position Announcement and Description, screen applicants, approach candidates not actively looking for a job, plan the interview process from the first round through the finalists, make reference checks, and negotiate the employment agreement. Search firms have a number of on-line resources to which they can post their Position Description as well as use their own networks.
Searches may be funded from new grants or contributions, but some boards may not have the option of hiring a search firm due to the expense, however, we recommend doing your due diligence and researching firms, which vary greatly in terms of process and fees (ranging from 6-figure retainers, a fee representing a percentage of the director’s first year salary, or a flat fee: flat fee agreements allow the museum to budget expenses prior to the launch of the search, and ensure that the firm is fully objective when negotiating on behalf of the museum). Whether your Board opts to hire a search firm or market the position itself, it needs to establish a Search Budget and allot resources to the process.
Now that you know who will be involved in the transition, it is time to think about your institution and its direction.
Institutional Assessment- What do you want you want to accomplish over the next 3-5 years? Why?
This strategy sounds simple- even simplistic- but it is the foundational question that must be answered before launching a search or continuing further with the Transition Plan. You may notice stakeholders wanting to hire someone “just like” your outgoing Director or someone “just the opposite.” Some may want an “externally-focused” person, while other’s want someone to come in and “straighten things out.” While all responses could be valid, at face value none are helpful. Instead, determine what you want in a leader by starting with the end in mind.
If you’ve recently gone through a strategic planning process you may have had some discussions that revealed some of the museum’s vision for the future. But honestly, even without a current Strategic plan in place, many of the museum’s goals are already accessible – they are what motivate Trustees and staff already. You are the experts. You know your organization, and how it is unique. You know your community and how your mission is making a difference.
And now… based upon this incredible trajectory that you are already on, What do You aim to achieve in this next chapter? Why? What will the impact be? Why will that matter? To whom?
Conducting an Institutional Assessment Survey (Like the One found in MTA Publication Executive Transitions [link]) among board, staff and stakeholders helps the Search Committee build a consensus on these strategic goals and begin to work “backwards” to determine the skills and expertise a new leader will need to have in order to support your museum in achieving these aims over the next three to five years. MTA recommends summarizing the results of this survey using an Outcomes Document (also found in Executive Transitions), which allows you to share this exciting vision with candidates when they ask. Remember, not only are you trying to find the right Director for your specific Museum, at this specific time in its trajectory, but qualified leaders are trying to determine whether or not your museum is the best next step for them, at this point in their career trajectory. Be clear, be confident, and inspire them!
The Position Announcement-Tell your story!
Building upon the information you’ve gathered above, spread information about the museum’s trajectory. Clearly communicate the unique aspects of your museum, your community, and your plans for the next three to five years. During times of transition, it may feel like we should communicate less with stakeholders. It is tempting to wait until there is more positive news, or until something more concrete is known. Resist this urge! Remember that organizational change and transition are part of doing business. Find ways to strategically leverage this moment to talk about the successes/challenges of the past, that the Board has taken charge of the transition, and is excited about the Next Chapter!
Museums must always be in campaign mode; the Board and staff are moving towards a shared goal of impact. In times of leadership transition, this becomes critical. Your story will directly and indirectly answer questions like:
- Why should I donate? (What will the impact to the community be if I support you?)
- Why should I support you now, rather than wait for the permanent Director to arrive? Or support another organization that has an urgent project?
- Why would I want to apply to be the Director of this Museum, now?
Start telling this story consistently internally and externally (job postings, website, quotes in the press, donor events, brochures) as you move through the transition. Your story communicated in the Position Description will inspire your team and will help potential candidates to be able to visualize what you are aiming for. This clarity allows potential new directors to assess whether they can make a difference. For some candidates, hearing about plans for a future capital campaign may be compelling, while others may be excited to help solve a major challenge and better serve the community. The Position Description’s clarity can especially benefit leadership transitions in which the surface is negative, and the Search requires specialized communications with legal vetting. In all cases, be honest and confident in telling your story. It’s better to be honest, so you can find the ideal long-term match!
Ensure that your momentum during the transition continues. Waiting until the permanent leader arrives before making key hires may not always be the most strategic decision due to loss of revenue, external relationships, burden on current staff, etc. The Board should form a separate Transition Committee who can work with the Interim leader to weigh carefully which actions are needed to advance the organization, and when. This is important in order to keep stakeholders engaged and confident, and … create an organization that is attractive to candidates, and will allow the new Director to hit the ground running rather than focusing their first ninety days filling vacant positions.
Now is the time to communicate! Do not forget that Leadership transitions are part of any successful museum. They are not an indication of failure or a weakness. When you keep updating the community throughout the Search & interim period, you can effectively engage its members so they can help you celebrate and be a part of your successes!
- Marilyn Hoffman, “Forming a Search Committee to Hire a Museum Director or Senior Staff Member,” NEMA News. (Summer 2011). Print.
- Fischer, Daryl K., and Colleen Boland. Executive Transitions. Washington, DC: Museum Trustee Association, 2003. Print.
About the Authors
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.
Mary Baily Wieler