Posts Tagged ‘hiring’

Hiring talent: how nonprofit lifecycles impact culture and results

Organizational lifecycles analysis provides an effective diagnostic tool for examining how an organization has evolved as well as what opportunities and challenges lie ahead. Understanding what has been and what is to come is the foundation for predicting, analyzing and addressing effective organizational development. This lifecycle knowledge is especially effective when used in conjunction with a strategic framework that articulates the three or four goals an organization must achieve over the next three to five years.

Considerations when hiring

Whether hiring a new CEO or filling other senior leadership positions, the odds of making the correct hire are dramatically increased by applying lifecycle analysis while developing key performance indicators. The success of the hiring process is dependent on understanding the outcomes the individual is expected to accomplish and the range of experience, skill sets and attributes required to achieve these results. Often there is a bias toward identifying and hiring the skills required to successfully produce the position outcomes. However, it is the personal attributes that determine how effectively an individual works within the organization’s culture. Individuals with outstanding skill sets are often hired and then are unable to perform because they lack the characteristics to function effectively within the organization’s established culture. The current and anticipated next stage of the nonprofit’s lifecycle shapes culture and therefore must be fully analyzed to define the most important characteristics for a new leader.

Resources on lifecycles

Many resources are available to provide help in discerning the current and ideal future state of your organization. Susan Kenny Stevens’ book Nonprofit Lifecycles: Stage-Based Wisdom for Nonprofit Capacity is a frequently mentioned resource for the nonprofit sector. Nonprofit board members may be more familiar with Ichak Adizes’ groundbreaking work on corporate lifecycles from the 1980s. His book, Corporate Lifecycles: How and Why Corporations Grow and Die and What to Do About It, provides comprehensive insights into the unique facets of each stage of the lifecycle and also delineates how culture changes as organizations develop from an idea to a start-up to growth and maturity.

Below are examples of how three different stages in the lifecycle might be applied to assessments of organizational leadership:

Idea, Start-Up, Infant or Young Organizations

Nonprofit organizations are created because of new or innovative programing or content delivery ideas. Culturally, these organizations are characterized by high energy with the staff and board playing many different roles in fluid and often unpredictable ways. The leader is often the founder and is a charismatic cheerleader for the organization’s mission. This is the most fragile stage in an organization’s lifecycle, and there are libraries filled with books on the challenges of founder’s syndrome and how perilous leadership transitions are at this stage of the nonprofit’s life.

The driving question is, should this organization continue to exist? Has it been proven that the programs or services render the anticipated impact and that the market demand will sustain this organization long-term? If the answer is yes, then what steps must be taken to transfer ownership of the organization’s strategic direction and operations from the founder (or perhaps the founding board) to the board and staff and who can take this organization to the next stage of its development? The tendency is to hire another charismatic cheerleader with deep programming knowledge and experience. What the organization needs is a leader who will create the systems necessary to foster replicable results year after year. This individual will understand and has experience in balancing a range of organizational development needs, rather than focusing exclusively on program development and delivery. This is also the stage when the fundraising program must diversify beyond start-up capital and sweat equity to a sustainable fundraising model. The leader selected must have the attributes required to respect the start-up culture while guiding the evolution of that culture toward a sustainable future.

Adolescent or Growth Organizations

If an organization successfully navigates the start-up stage, it will begin experiencing the opportunities and challenges of what is commonly called the growth stage. This phase is characterized by the board and staff always feeling stretched, like there is never enough. Program opportunities exceed delivery capacity. Potential new partners, collaborators and funders clamor for new services or ask for the organization to embark on new programs to serve new audiences. To navigate this stage, the board and staff must recognize the linkage between quality programming and organizational excellence and must also have clarity regarding mission, or what results does this organization seek to achieve. This is the phase when the board must sometimes say “no” to good ideas. During this phase the board and staff members may exit because “we aren’t having as much fun as we used to” or “there are too many rules.” The goal of this phase is not to become a stifling bureaucracy, but rather to align resources (human and capital) in ways that will be most effective in accelerating progress on the mission. The temptation is to hire leaders who will “bring back the fun.” This often translates into seeking an entrepreneur who is interested in fostering new program or service development and is not a systemic thinker. Those characteristics may cause an organization to return to the start-up phase or fail to negotiate the organizational development necessary to become a sustainable growth or prime organization. The ideal leader for this phase brings consistency and discipline to the organization without driving it into a risk-averse culture. This leader understands how to deliver the promised results and exceed the expectations of funders and stakeholders.

Ageing, Dying and Turnaround Organizations

At this stage, an organization has lost its connection to the external environment. Decisions are made by the board and staff in support of internal drivers or agendas, rather than responding to the changing external landscape and serving their clients, as delineated in the mission. At this stage there is either a decision for renewal and reinvention or an acceptance by the board and staff to cease operations.

Obviously, the leader who would be selected to close a nonprofit and liquidate assets in a manner that is respectful to its legacy is different than the profile for an individual who will reinvent a nonprofit organization. Reinvention may require significant changes in the board and staff composition and the transformation of the organization’s culture. Moving the organization from internal preoccupation to external relevancy requires an experienced leader who understands the key values that must be instilled to drive transformational cultural change. The experience and capacity for engaging disenfranchised funders and stakeholders may be paramount to success of this reinvention phase.

See also:

Building Nonprofit Capacity: A Guide to Managing Change Through Organizational Lifecycles

Match: A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every time

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Improve your organizational performance by making great hires

The CausePlanet team invited me to respond to the Page to Practice™ book summary of Match: A Systematic Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time by Dan Erling. I would agree with Erling that human capital is the single most important factor in accelerating a nonprofit organization’s mission performance. His book outlines accepted and tested best practices in identifying, hiring and retaining talent. Nonprofits should not underestimate the competitive environment for the very best employees or the costs of making the wrong hire. Nonprofit CEOs who focus on hiring processes and provide leadership for these best practices will see gains in organizational efficiency and impact through a more motivated and skilled staff.

However, to many executive directors and CEOs of smaller nonprofits, this approach to hiring may sound like a process that is only suited for large organizations. Actually, the inverse is true. The smaller the organization, the more critical it is to consistently build focus and discipline around hiring processes. The cost and impact of making the wrong choice is much greater when the organization is smaller.

While having a disciplined and consistent comprehensive process for hiring is important, there are three aspects that are critical and often overlooked. When talking with organizations about hires that did not work or when interviewing individuals who have exited positions that did not fit, it is usually one of the following three aspects of the search process that was neglected:

  • The Foundation: mission, strategic direction and organizational alignment
  • Choice: sourcing to build an applicant pool
  • Results: starting with the end in mind

The Foundation: mission, strategic direction and organizational alignment

Making the right hire begins with an understanding of the mission, as well as clarity about where this organization is in it lifecycle and its intended strategic direction. During work on over twenty searches over the last six years, boards and/or staff usually articulate a need for changes in how the organization functions, key success indicators and outcomes. It’s only by discussing the mission, whom a nonprofit hopes to serve, the outcomes to be achieved and how the next stage of the organization’s development differs from the last that the desired change becomes concrete, a tangible set of skills and attributes. These discussions about the foundational elements of the nonprofit also test the alignment and support for this future direction and enhance performance on the mission. Are the board, staff and key stakeholders all supporting the same direction, strategic vision and next steps for this organization? If not, how will these differences be addressed prior to filling an important position? Clarity regarding these most fundamental elements is critically important before proceeding with a search.

Choice: sourcing to build an applicant pool

Frequently, we make the wrong hire when we feel pressured to fill a position and settle on a candidate who lacks important skills or attributes. It’s easy to talk yourself or a team into picking the best from a group of applicants who do not fit the position.

Dan Erling talks about strategies for expanding the pool with diversified advertising strategies. Researching the best websites, association list serves and social media strategies for advertising a job can broaden the pool of applicants. However, you are only reaching people who want to find a job or change jobs. In all likelihood, the most qualified candidates are not looking and will not apply for the position you posted.

To reach this highly qualified cohort, sourcing is required. Sourcing is an action plan for reaching those individuals who may be ideal candidates for the job or know where to find those candidates. Review your contacts and identify at least 20people who are outstanding at the job you are seeking to fill or know people who have mastered the skills and attributes your position requires. Send each of these individuals the position description for the job and schedule a time to talk. Solicit feedback on the job, sources for candidates, and names of specific individuals and ask them to forward the position description to their key contacts. Follow up on suggestions and continue to network. This strategy will lead to individuals who are not in the job market and may never have heard of this opportunity without these networking efforts.

Results: starting with the end in mind

How will you measure the success of this position? What would a superstar accomplish in this job during the first 6 months, by the end of year one or two? What are the most important outcomes to accomplish first? What rate of change does the organization expect and/or require?

It is amazing how often I talk with someone new to their job (and regularly these are CEOs) who have no quantified performance outcomes. Frequently they are spending their first year on the job defining the job! How often do we set up a new hire for failure by failing to define success?

Part of the task when writing a position description is to prioritize the outcomes for year one and quantify the performance. If the team (board and/or staff) working on the position description cannot agree on either the outcomes or the measures, keep working. Failure to agree on this most fundamental statement of what the job will do for the organization means there is a lack of alignment regarding the role. Until that alignment is achieved, it’s unlikely anyone can succeed in the job. Do not make assumptions regarding outcomes; quantify the results your organization needs!

See also:

Winning with a Culture of Recognition

Fired Up or Burned Out

Nine Minutes on Monday

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Withstand unreliable times by making “people smart” choices

The article that follows by Tommy Spaulding tells a brief story about CEO, Ray Hunt, of Hunt Consolidated, Inc. Ray is a terrific example of the best practices author Dan Erling shares in Match: A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time.

Numerous studies report that the most successful companies are those run by leaders who understand that people are the most important part of the business equation. Despite these reports, CEOs still do not prioritize the hiring process and end up losing precious time and money. Losses in recruiting, training, and productivity can be staggering—up to 13 times that person’s salary and more for managerial or revenue-generating positions, says Erling.

Transformative leaders take something great and make it greater. Ray Hunt is a transformative leader. The Texas-based oil company was founded by Hunt’s father in 1934 and stands today as a testimony to the wisdom of what he calls “people smart” leadership.

Mr. Hunt, now in his late 60s, serves as the chairman, president and CEO of Hunt Consolidated, Inc., the parent company that oversees what’s grown into a multi-billion-dollar family of businesses. Chris Kleinert, the president and CEO of Hunt Consolidated Investments, introduced me to Mr. Hunt. Chris and I met when I spoke to the Young Presidents’ Organization, and Chris invited me to speak during the annual meeting of Hunt’s top 150 managers. I flew to Dallas the day before the conference and Chris introduced me to Hunter Hunt, the president and CEO of Hunt Consolidated Energy, and to Chris’s father-in-law, Ray, so that they could give me a better feel for the history of the company.

Since 1974, the Hunt family business has doubled in revenue and growth every five years and it’s on pace to do it again. In good economies and slow economies, the Hunts have not only survived but grown. They now have more than 3,000 employees and a diversified assortment of business interests that help drive that growth. But with such growth comes challenges, and it didn’t take me long to understand why Ray Hunt has been so adept at facing and meeting those challenges.

First of all, Mr. Hunt proves success doesn’t have to strangle humility. He is a gentle, soft-spoken, humble Texan–a world-class gentleman with a servant’s heart. I’m sure he’s had his moments of imperfection just like the rest of us, but it only took a few minutes with him to realize the authenticity of his character. That’s what drives his leadership: he cares about people.

In fact, Mr. Hunt made it clear that being “people smart” has been the key to his organization’s success. He pointed out, for instance, that he has nothing against people with doctorate degrees, but that he could only think of one person he’d ever hired who had that level of formal education. Instead, he’s done just fine by hiring based more on work ethic, communication skills and shared values. “If you can build with that,” he told me, “growth happens.”

One of the “five basic characteristics” stressed in the Hunt companies is “a strong corporate culture.” When a company’s employees operate with shared personal values and work ethic, they attract others who share those values, and that’s how you grow a strong, competent workforce.

When I met Mr. Hunt, he talked about viewing employees as family members, about hiring the right people and about focusing on building the right type of “corporate culture.” In fact, he must have mentioned “corporate culture” a dozen times in the 15 minutes he spoke about Hunt Consolidated. Frankly, it seemed almost obsessive. But in an organization racing forward so fast, Mr. Hunt knows the one thing that can take it off track is for it to stray from the values and culture that led to its success.

Mr. Hunt believes that a Chairman and CEO’s greatest responsibility is to protect its “corporate culture.” And it is also important to make sure the succession plan is in sync with the company’s values. Having spent time with Chris Kleinert and Hunter Hunt, Hunt Consolidated, Inc. is in good hands. They share Mr. Hunt’s passion for people-smart leadership that starts at the top and works its way down to every level of the constantly growing organization. He’s set them up for continued success, and their shared commitment to his principles no doubt will drive the company’s growth for years to come.

A candidate who fits your culture is as important as one who has the hard and soft skills you require, says Dan Erling. Assess your culture within the department where the new position will be filled and the nonprofit as a whole. Evaluating your own culture is very difficult because you work within it every day. Using any one of the tools available online or Erling’s scorecard will help you uncover important surprises that may impact your hiring decision.

See also:

Match: A Systematic, Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time

It’s Not Just Who You Know


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Can you afford to pay 13 times more in current salaries?

Peter Drucker once said, “The ability to make good decisions regarding people represents one of the last reliable sources of competitive advantage, since very few organizations are very good at it.”

Most organizations are terrible, if not inconsistent, at hiring. This is not a good thing at all since talent matters more than any other resource in a nonprofit. Numerous studies report that the most successful companies are those run by leaders who understand that people are the most important part of the business equation. Despite these reports, CEOs still do not prioritize the hiring process and end up losing precious time and money. Losses in recruiting, training, and productivity can be staggering—up to 13 times that person’s salary and more for managerial or revenue-generating positions, says Erling.

Dan Erling is the author of our new Page to Practice™ feature this month at CausePlanet: Match: A Systematic Sane Process for Hiring the Right Person Every Time.

“Most organizations will tell you that having the right people on the team is the key to success. Very few organizations go beyond that rhetoric. When it comes to execution, they lack the drive to make hiring great people a top priority,” says Erling.

Furthermore, when I asked Dan Erling about the important but seemingly rare evaluation of a job candidate’s competencies versus skills, he had this to say:

“The difference between competencies and skills is vast. Competencies tell us about the internal makeup of the candidate we are considering for a role in our company. Examples of competencies include ‘independence, energy, passion and intelligence.’ Skills are trainable and don’t tell us anything about the way a person will fit within a company. Examples of skills include, ‘Excel mastery, the ability to speak Spanish, working knowledge of nonprofits and a CPA accreditation.’

So, the reason that making the distinction between competencies and skills is so rare is because there is difficult and deliberate work that must go on to figure out what competencies best fit within an organization. This is time-consuming and difficult. But the good news is that most organizations don’t want to be bothered with it. Those that are willing to take the plunge are far more likely to be successful in their hires and therefore infinitely more competitive.”

Human capital is the most important investment you can make in your organization, according to Erling. He has developed and repeatedly proven that his MATCH model, if used from start to finish, will ensure you hire the best fit every time.

The MATCH system covers the entire lifecycle of the hiring process, including: using powerful strategies to craft job descriptions that precisely fit your nonprofit’s needs; building teams and departments that align with your mission; investing the necessary time and energy in recruiting, interviewing and researching the right candidates; bringing new hires on board, monitoring their performance and ensuring the hires are maximizing their performance; and retaining top talent for long-term hiring ROI.

Evaluate the current health of your hiring processes by answering some of Erling’s questions below:

1. What has been your company’s hiring success rate over the past year?

2. What has been your company’s retention rate over the past three years?

3. What percentage of your employees has a working job description?

4. What percentage of your employees is in the correct role in terms of being challenged and fairly compensated?

5. What percentage of your staff matches the culture of your organization?

6. What percentage of your staff has a competency profile that augments the organizational dynamic?

7. How much do your current employees augment your organizational mission?

Find out what the next steps are based on your answer to these questions. Learn more about our new Page to Practice book summary of Match, or visit Erling’s site at for more insights from the author, details about the MATCH process, and his consulting services.

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