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Transitioning to a New Chief Executive

Much of the anxiety and stress can be greatly reduced for the new chief executive by the Board that effectively handles the transition to the new administration. The following key Board activities will particularly help the new chief executive to get off to an effective start.

1. Ensure the Board has a clear vision of what it wants in a new chief executive. Be wary of the strong tendency to define the new chief executive in terms of what the previous executive was or wasn’t. Instead, hire a new chief executive based on the organization’s current needs, e.g., financial skills, personnel/supervisory skills, (and in the case of nonprofits, fundraising skills), planning skills, program skills, etc. Rank the skills in priority order and update the chief executive job description accordingly. Design recruitment tools, i.e., ads, profiles, etc., from the position specification and reference the specifications when developing interview questions as well.

2. Before the new chief executive begins employment, send a letter welcoming him or her to the organization, verifying the starting date, providing a copy of the employee policies and procedures manual, and providing a copy of the strategic plan and financials. (This can be included in the acceptance letter.)

3. The Board should send a letter to key stakeholders. The letter would announce the new chief executive, when he or she is starting, something about the individual’s background and why it’s useful, etc., and asking them to call the Board chair if they have any questions or concerns.

4. Meet with the new chief executive to bring him or her up to speed on strategic information. Review the organization chart, last year’s annual report, the strategic plan, this year’s budget, and the employee policies and procedure manual (if it hasn’t already been received). In the same meeting, explain the performance review procedure and provide a copy of the performance review document.

5. When the new chief executive begins employment (or before if possible), introduce him or her in a staff meeting dedicated to introducing the new chief executive. If the organization is small enough, have all staff attend and introduce themselves. If the organization is larger, invite all managers to the meeting and, along with the new chief executive, have each manager introduce themselves.

6. Invite the new chief executive to a social event with Board members. This can greatly help to establish a comfortable rapport with the new chief executive.

7. Ensure the new chief executive receives necessary materials and is familiar with the facilities. Ensure an assistant distributes keys, and any needed benefit and tax forms are signed. Review the layout of offices, bathrooms, storage areas, kitchen use, copy and fax systems, computer configuration and procedures, telephone usage and any special billing procedures for use of office systems.

8. Schedule any needed training, e.g., computer training, including use of passwords, overview of software and documentation, location and use of peripherals, and where to go to get questions answered.

9. Review any policies and/or procedures about use of facilities.

10. Assign a Board member to the new chief executive as a "buddy" who remains available to answer any questions over the next four weeks.

11. Have someone take the new chief executive to lunch on his or her first day of work and invite other staff members along.

12. During the first six weeks, have one-on-one meetings (face-to-face or over the telephone) with the new chief executive, to discuss the new employee’s transition into the organization, hear any pending issues or needs, and establish a working relationship with the new chief executive.

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