Part 1: Onboarding leaders in the Great Reshuffling

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Little known fact: the term “Great Resignation” was coined before the pandemic.

Prognosticators have been foretelling a massive leadership transition in the nonprofit sector as seasoned executives retire. So perhaps, we can take a cue from the folks at Forbes who refer to this time more aptly as the “Great Reshuffling.” There’s very little evidence of a mass exodus leaving the workforce, but rather a whole lot of moving and shaking going on. In an effort to relieve burnout, find greater meaning and increased flexibility, or simply retire, people are on the move. For nonprofit board members, the reality of leadership transitions can be unnerving, often causing a head-in-the-sand approach to succession planning and support for new leaders as they onboard.

So, how can we help trustees feel confident navigating leadership transitions during the Great Reshuffling? Once again, our friends from Bridgespan Group offer key insights you can put into action now.

Insight: Embrace a leadership mindset.

Take action: Commit to leadership development. High-performing boards know that investing in CEO development is a crucial function. And expand your purview to prepare future leaders for success. By building a solid and deep bench, you have a team that can navigate through the transition—and you invest in your future’s internal candidates.

Insight: Engage the board now, don’t wait.

Take action: Boards don’t love surprises, so the board chair and CEO need to engage board members in one-on-one conversations about the organization’s future. If an internal candidate is the best option for the organization, build an intentional, six-month transition timeline. This allows the new CEO and board chair to create that essential alignment to support the organization’s strategic direction.

Insight: Create a transition task force.

Take action: This is a team of board members and staff who collaborate to develop a strategic plan defining the critical elements of the transition process. Big-ticket items include crafting job descriptions for the CEO and new “founder” or outgoing CEO; identifying critical organizational changes that will support the transition and communicating those to key stakeholders; and celebrating the outgoing and incoming CEOs. Board members as well as the outgoing CEO are best-suited to reach out to your external stakeholders with key messages. The outgoing and incoming CEOs are often best entrusted with cascading the news internally and building excitement for change—while listening for and allaying fears of what this change will bring to staff.

Leadership EQ: Board members need to be sensitive to the reality that staff is often left to wonder where they will fit in the new order of things. Great leaders avoid this sense of uncertainty through clear, transparent communication.

Insight: Deepen the leadership bench as an ongoing, organizational practice.

Take action: Task the new CEO with putting their own succession plan in place. Do the same with the Board, and especially board leadership. Every Board should have both the CEO succession plan, and the Board succession plan, focused on building the leadership bench as an ongoing activity.

Onboarding: A 3-Part Series

Tomorrow’s thriving nonprofits are investing in their leaders today. With this Great Reshuffling in full swing, we’ll be navigating you through the ins and outs of leadership onboarding throughout the month of March in our 3-Part Series. Keep an eye on your inbox next Friday for more strategies to set up your new leaders for success.

And as change abounds in this season, I challenge you to embrace courage beyond your comfort zone. That’s where the magic happens, friends!


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Hey there, I'm Kimberley

Welcome! I believe our social sector organizations are at the forefront of making here better. With more than 33 years of diversified fundraising and nonprofit experience, I partner with courageous organizations committed to building clarity and confidence. Let’s connect and chart your nonprofit’s path to thriving. 

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