Recently I read the social media meme, “You are not a leader until you have produced another leader who can produce another leader.” The statement resonated with me as it spoke to my own philosophy of mentorship. There will always be space in the charitable sector to mentor the next generation of leaders in the workplace and beyond, specifically helping them navigate their career path.
Now more than ever, I find myself advising emerging leaders searching for their next professional challenge. The executive search process can be daunting with the stress of planning life changes, interviews, contract negotiation and the weight on making a significant career decision.
Here is my suggested research list for those leaders engaged in an executive search process:
- Personal alignment to mission. First and foremost ask yourself if the mission or purpose of the organization fits with your values and commitment to social change.
- What will you learn? Recruiters and hiring committees naturally look for what you bring to the table, however ask yourself what does the role and experience give you in terms of personal and professional development. Is it a stretch opportunity and an environment that embraces life long learning and professional development? What performance management and formal professional development programs are in place?
- How can you contribute? The question may seem counter intuitive to the purpose of a search, however you need to flush out if the organization is ready for need ideas and how your contributions will be welcomed. Unfortunately not all organizations are open to change, therefore you may need to calibrate your ambition with that of the organization.
- Regardless if you are interviewing for the executive director or a 2IC position, board governance and effectiveness are important considerations. This includes reaching a clear understanding about the board nomination and succession processes. Is there a pending change with the board chair? Is the board strategic or operational in structure and/or behavior? Does the board have a clear vision for the future and is this formally approved and well documented? Check out related topics: Assessing Board Performance and Do You Have The Right Board Chair?
- Assessing the organization’s culture and health through the interview process is difficult as most of these interactions are staged to support the ‘selling and recruitment’ process. Ask to speak with employees or ask friends/ professional colleagues about their experiences with the charity. Hiring panels should be open to introducing you to key employees at an appropriate stage in the search process.
- Researching the financial health of the organization is essential to address the questions of growth, challenge and change. Asking for audited financial statements and fundraising performance metrics will give you significant insight into the sustainability of the organization. If the hiring committee or Board is reluctant to release the data it should represent a negative flag in your decision-making process.
- Does the organization have a culture of philanthropy and is it actively supported by the board, the employees and stakeholders? How does this translate into policies and practices? Are these key ‘P’s aligned with the sector’s best practices and do the fundraising performance metrics reinforce the culture? Check out related topic: Board Fundraising.
- Review if the current model is sustainable, specifically look at the structures of governance, operations and business. Charities are not immune to societal and economic shifts and disruption, so determining if the organization is progressive, nimble and able to navigate future conditions will be important for your leadership success.
- Ask for a copy of the employee (HR) handbook. This document should be provided on request to give you insight into the organization, notably the importance it places on employee health and workplace effectiveness.
- In this time of blurred work-life balance the exploring the organization’s approach to flexible and remote office time is increasingly more important. This becomes critical as organizations embrace diversity in the workplace, grapple with technology and focus on retention and alternative benefits for employees. What will the board expect of you and what is the expectation of the team(s) within the organization?
- It is common in the charitable sector to be over-extended as work demands are high and resources limited, so I suggest being informed about the organization’s overtime and vacation policies. Are these policies encouraging employees to achieve a healthy work-life balance and opportunities to rejuvenate. Are the policies and practices aligned and equitable for the team.
- As you move through the recruitment process ask yourself if you feel a respect for your time? Are you treated professionally and fairly? Do you feel there has been an appropriate rigor dedicated to the process that will support the key decisions that need to be made?
The executive recruitment process is a two-way search and achieves the best result when both parties are transparent, well-informed and respectful of the process and those engaged in it.
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