OMG – She/He is Leaving! How to Handle Key Staff Departures

by David Norgard

"The board meetings just won't be the same without you..."

First, a story from a friend and colleague, David Cupps…

David Cupps currently serves on two boards of directors. One organization is a national advocacy group; the other is a local musical group. By coincidence, each board was informed of the departure of a key staff member within days of each other.

In the case of the advocacy group, it was the administrator who was leaving after more than a decade of extraordinary service. He had done so much for so long with so little that it was hard to imagine moving forward without him. Likewise with the music group: in that case, it was the artistic director, and music ensembles need their direction.

So what does a board – and executive director – do? What should they do?

Wringing hands in quiet despair and watching the descent into chaos with a piteous gaze is probably not the most helpful response. What David has been learning from these two similar situations, he recounts below:

  1. Remain calm. Your attitude will be contagious for good or ill, so act like you want your members/constituents to act.
  2. Quickly inform other leaders. They will appreciate being on the “inside track,” and you will need their help and solidarity.
  3. Make a plan and let people know. People will be glad to know you are doing something about the situation and will feel relieved. This is a good idea even if your plans change later!
  4. Communicate – even to the point of over-communicating. People begin to panic if they do not know what is happening. Do not worry about repeating yourself. Often people miss the first message, skim the second one, and misunderstand the third one.
  5. Revise your plan as necessary. Don’t let your plan become outdated. You will need a common understanding with your fellow leaders and a current road map is the easiest way to stay on task.

My friend David Cupps and I have led parallel lives lately in the respect that we both have had to deal with unexpected departures. In my case, it was a university development officer. She had done great work and then she was gone. I feared that alumni relations would grind to a halt – or worse – regress. Tempted to succumb to the hand-wringing option, I reviewed what I teach in supervisory training classes and workshops. (It is often said and often true: We learn ourselves by teaching others.)

In managing staff, it is a given that good people will both come and go. Nowadays, the long tenure of a great staff member is the increasingly rare exception.

Aware of this reality, we can take one of two approaches.

We can ignore it and – a little like Claude Rains in “Casablanca” – be shocked to find it going on in our establishment. Or, we can expect it and be prepared… But that begs the question. How does one become prepared and, for that matter, stay prepared? Is there some emergency protocol to put in a binder for when this type of “crisis” strikes? Is there some kit to buy and mount on the wall?

In a word, no. However, there is a long-term strategy – rather counter-intuitive on first reading – which sets the stage for smoother transitions. As a friend and colleague once put it, we need to think these days just as much about “getting the people done through work” as about “getting the work done through people.”

In other words, we need to value professional development and not just productivity.

People who work put forth effort that results in individual performance. This leads to results for the organization; it also needs to lead to rewards for the individual.

Part of the equation, of course, is compensation and benefits. Yet equally valued in the workforce today is the opportunity for professional development. In small and medium sized nonprofits, there are often few, if any, opportunities for professional advancement… but there are many possibilities for learning skills, acquiring knowledge, making contacts, and engaging in creative processes.

The short view of facilitating professional development is that a person will grow into greater capability, only to desire something greater and eventually leave. That will probably happen anyway. People come and go.

But when the person who has been “developed” leaves, what is left behind is a legacy of caring about staff and a commitment to excellence… and what is carried into the world is an enduring respect for and appreciation of your organization.

In addition to being an Associate Faculty member in the M.A. in Organizational Management Program of Antioch University Los Angeles, David Norgard is the founder of OD180, a consulting firm that develops strategies for nonprofit organizations. He has also held leadership roles on various nonprofit boards and committees. At present, he serves as the President of Integrity USA, the Episcopal Church’s LGBT advocacy group. A graduate of AULA’s M.A. in Organizational Management program, David currently serves as Chair of AULA’s Alumni & Community Advisory Board. He also holds a B.A. magna cum laude from Augsburg College and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School, where he received a Dean’s Citation for Community Service and an Award of Distinction among Alumni.


Executive Titles Gone Wild: Do We Really Need “Chief Reputation Officers”?

by Freddy J. Nager

I recently met a consultant who argued that all corporations should have a “Chief Reputation Officer.” The CRO’s responsibility would be to monitor, protect and promote the company’s reputation. I noted that this consultant was a “reputation specialist” by trade, so I detected a little self-promotion going on.

"OMG, I just heard my boss's new title..."

Now, I won’t begrudge anyone a good job in this economy. We should all aspire to higher responsibilities and rewards, particularly if they include healthcare with dental.

I also agree that corporations should manage their reputations as diligently as they manage their money. While the consultant and I debated, Microsoft unleashed an ad nicknamed “OMGIGP” for “Oh My God I’m Gonna Puke.” Really. The ad featured a woman vomiting. Microsoft quickly withdrew the ad after bloggers and consumers broke into protest and ridicule.

Hmm, maybe the Jerry Seinfeld spots weren’t so bad after all…

So, yes, Microsoft tossed its reputation to the curb. But would appointing yet another exec at a top-heavy corporation make a difference — or even marketing sense?

Imagine investor response to hiring yet another C-level exec just to monitor reputation — particularly since a company’s reputation should be the responsibility of every executive, board member, and employee. True, a “czar” could help manage reputation matters, but that person already exists: the Chief Marketing Officer (or VP/Director of Marketing). If your CMO isn’t managing your reputation, time to send them packing.

Reputation is part of a company’s brand, and branding is to marketers what money is to financiers. It runs in their veins. They eat it for dinner. It’s their job. Hiring a CRO in addition to a CMO is completely redundant — and a recipe for corporate politics run amok. (Never spur rivalries between execs capable of writing lethal emails.)

I’ve also heard of other contrived marketing positions, such as VP of Branding Strategy and Image Officer. These executives can nuance their job descriptions to perfection, but they simply add another layer of bureaucracy. Such jobs would entail reviewing every communication, product and policy before public release, and predicting how they’ll be received by customers, employees, shareholders, the media, the community, etc.

Once again, the job of the CMO.

Now, if you don’t already have a marketing exec, your company is only running on three legs. In that case, your president, ad agency, or publicist should oversee reputation. A CRO? No, not even if you have money to burn.

As a marketer who teaches aspiring marketers, I love seeing more opportunities in marketing, but contrived executive positions only hurt a company’s brand — almost as much as commercials of women losing their lunch.

Freddy J. Nager teaches courses in social media, entrepreneurship and marketing at AULA. The founder of agency Atomic Tango LLC, Freddy has over two decades of professional experience in marketing and media, including 17 online. He previously worked for music label MCA Records and major ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, and served such clients as Nissan & Infiniti, the NFL on Fox, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, National Lampoon and numerous startups. He holds a BA from Harvard University and an MBA from the University of Southern California

The Power of Super Connectors: Use “Bridging” to Build Networks

by Pat Palleschi, Ph.D.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve told to network to find a job — but, as my colleague Rob Cain has often told me, there is a way to network that doesn’t use “number of people I link to” as a metric.

There are certain people who bridge ties to new people that you don’t usually have within your sphere. The people who bridge ties are “super connectors” — they power up your networking and bring you better results with less drudgery.

So, as you network (face-to-face or using social networking sites), be aware of the key people who can “bridge” you to groups you usually don’t access. They can bridge you from a network of teachers to a network of scientists, for instance. That bridge may help you consult a group of scientists or train them on management. It can enable you to re-invent what you have been doing into a new language.

Turns out, social media is much like the networking of five years ago, because it follows the rule of “it is who you know” that gets you to where you want to be. As Rob Cross, an associate professor of management in the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia, says:

“Age-old wisdom suggests it is not what but whom you know that matters. Over decades this truism has been supported by a great deal of research on networks. Work since the 1970s shows that people who maintain certain kinds of networks do better: They are promoted more rapidly than their peers, make more money, are more likely to find a job if they lose their own, and are more likely to be considered high performers.”

The power of “super connectors” is immense. The problem with networking with the people you already know is that (in all likelihood) you share the same mindset. How can you grow without gaining new information, new perspectives and new points of view?

Pat Palleschi is the President of The Executive Agency. She has devoted the past 25 years to creating HR strategies that help organizations and individuals succeed. As VP of Human Resources Development at Disneyland, she helmed the Disney University, where she and her team made it their mission to attract, develop and retain Disney Cast members who were “pumped to perform.” Before Disney, Pat served as Senior VP of Training for Bank of America. She earned her doctorate at the University of Massachusetts and chaired the Speech Communication Department at Loyola Marymount