Five Questions Every Search Committee Should Ask of Itself

By Roxann Mayros, President & CEO, VisionServe Alliance

Roxann Mayros headshot

In 2018, VisionServe Alliance saw 8 of its members retire, and there are already 5 who have announced their intent to retire in 2019. Over the years, I combined the following information from various sources and have given it to specific members.  With the number of members who recently retired or have announced their intent, I thought this would be good information for all members to read and keep handy … just in case you are the next to announce your retirement. 

Please Note: This document was created from several sources over several years. I thank those authors from whom I pulled information, and apologize for not being able to give credit. 

  1. How do we define success?  It’s hard to overstate the importance of defining success.  To define success, you don’t need an exhaustive up-to-the-minute strategic plan, but you do need a collective expression of the board’s aspirations for the organization.  At a minimum, as the surrogate for the full board, the search committee should be able to coalesce around preliminary answers to the big questions affecting the organization’s future. 
  2. What worries us the most?  A clear understanding of shared concerns at the board level can prove enormously useful in discussions with potential CEOs. The concerns usually reflect issues of culture and competence, and the pendulum is always swinging between the two. Clarity around the board’s biggest worries will help CEO candidates understand the board’s priorities. 
  3. How much change can we stand?  In nonprofits with more than a few minutes of operating history, there will be some vocal board members and staff who want everything to stay the same and some who want to change everything.  Every new CEO faces the challenge of honoring the organization’s past while securing its future.  Within this balance of heritage and hope lie enormous challenge, risk, and reward for the board and the next leader.  Which aspects of the organization (and its culture) do we want to preserve, and which aspects do we know should be amended?  How big, really,is our appetite for change?
  4. How can our new CEO add the most value?  An organization with any momentum at all can project future results from current operations, perform a basic gap analysis to understand what is needed to get from here to there, and then recruit to fill the predicted gap.  By asking, “How can our new CEO add the most value,” however, the committee substitutes what’s likely with what’s possible.  Given the assets and issues you know about and the results to be expected under normally competent leadership, ask what are the possibilities under abnormally competent leadership?  The real added value may have little to do with vision and everything to do with execution.  The trick is to determine the best combination consistent with your mission and values.
  5. How can we ensure the CEO’s success?  In most cases,the search committee’s members will become the new CEO’s most logical champions.  More than most other board members, they will be the new CEO’s natural allies, sounding boards, and mentors.  At the outset of the process, every committee member should examine ways in which she or he could be most supportive of the future CEO.  CEOs new to a community or to blindness and vision loss will profit from help negotiating the twists and turns of the new environment.  Managers new to the CEO role itself will profit from a link to peers outside the organization.  This is why I always recommend new CEOs become active in VisionServe Alliance where they will network with, and learn from, their peers … other CEOs. 

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