Top tips on recruiting – and retaining – the ideal chief executive for your charity.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Making the right choice

On the launch of ACEVO’s  jobs board Melissa Baxter, director at Russam GMS, shares her top tips on recruiting – and retaining – the ideal chief executive for your charity

The appointment of a new chief executive is crucial to any charity – the decision made by the board can make or break the organisation’s success.

Start by knowing the desired attributes you’re looking for in your new leader. Work backwards and consider where the charity currently is. Understand which priorities and goals will need to be addressed, and whether they’re strategic or simply urgent.

This is what you expect the new chief executive to achieve: making this clear from the outset will give the search a solid direction, setting your board up for success.

You must also think about the challenges a new leader will face and the right mix of experience and personal style that will fit your mission and culture. Every organisation is different and there is no one-size-fits-all.

Recruitment is a two-way process and, in a competitive marketplace, it’s important to position yourself as somewhere the very best talent wants to work. Candidates will make judgments early in the process, so it’s important to be organised and implement a hiring strategy that works.

Here are my top tips to getting the hiring process right:

  1. Set clear objectives, priorities and goals for the new chief executive based on organisational needs.
  2. Engage all stakeholders and the senior management team in the process – allow them to feel part of the appointment and to share their views.
  3. Write the job description and person specification based on where the organisation is now and your current strategic plan.
  4. List the characteristics, skills and style you are looking for in your new chief executive.
  5. Understand how you will meet and nurture candidate expectations throughout the journey. If a candidate doesn’t feel they have a good experience, they may not take the role and will not have a positive view of your organisation.
  6. Design a rigorous process in order to stay organised, manage all stakeholder expectations, make sure documentation is available and timelines are met.
  7. Know how you will keep candidates informed throughout the process – providing clarity and detail.
  8. Prepare to maintain confidentiality. You don’t want your top candidates to drop out when their identity is inadvertently revealed, especially if they are serving as a chief executive elsewhere.
  9. Be clear and realistic on salary and remuneration package – trying to get a bargain and cut costs will have a detrimental effect on your organisation in the future. Always put your best offer forward from the outset, as the impact of going lower and not managing expectations can be detrimental.
  10. Be clear on start dates and your onboarding programme for the first three months to ensure your new chief executive is settled into their new role to guarantee long term success.
  11. Use a search firm that aligns with your goals, understands your business, and – perhaps most importantly – understands what top talent looks like and can benchmark against that

While the recruitment of a new chief executive is important, so too is retention. The first few weeks and months in post are critical. But if you prove from the beginning that you operate with honesty and integrity, you will have already begun to build the trust it requires to hire and retain your ideal chief executive.

Getting it right can dramatically accelerate the transformation of a new recruit into a fully functioning business leader. By starting the onboarding process even before the chief executive starts with the organisation, you will enable them to make a meaningful impact sooner in terms of the business – but you’ll also give them the chance to integrate fully in to the culture of the organisation. And that’s when they, and your organisation, will thrive.