Welcoming a New Chief Executive

If you’ve been paying attention to CEO Update, you’ve probably noticed that announcements of CEO retirements are increasing and, as a result, the listings of CEO openings are picking up.

That means a lot of CEOs are going to be starting new positions soon. I’ve had the opportunity to be part of the new CEO welcome team in previous associations, and I picked up a few ideas along the way:

First of all, whether you’re the new CEO, part of the staff welcome team, part of the rest of the staff, or a board member, I recommend starting with the excellent article Jackie Eder-Van Hook wrote for Associations Now a little over a year ago. It clearly and concisely lays out what the board, the new CEO, and the staff can do to help prepare for and facilitate a smooth transition.

Secondly, I’ve noticed that your new CEO’s background and your internal structure have a major impact on what you need to prepare to help her transition. If your new CEO comes from an association background, she’ll know how to run an association, but she’ll need to be quickly brought up to speed on your industry or profession, particularly if you have any major advocacy issues in play. And she’ll need to be quickly introduced to key players inside and outside the association. She’ll need a group of advisors (maybe the board, maybe additional people) who are known and respected in the industry who can teach her about it.

If your CEO comes from the industry or profession, she will know the key players and issues, but she’ll have to be educated about thinking about them and relating to people as a representative of the whole industry, not just her own company. And she’ll need a primer on how running an association is like and not like running a business. And a solid #2 or senior team to help keep the business of running the association going while she learns.

If your CEO comes from Capitol Hill…well, I don’t recommend doing that unless you have a strong internal structure, including a true COO (not just a glorified director of finance) who is responsible for running the association day to day. Because a high-profile lobbyist is just that. You’re buying influence, and expecting that person to run the organization as well is a big mistake.

Regardless of where you find your new CEO, she will need:

  • The current full financial and membership picture. And don’t even try to hide bad news. If you do, you’re setting her and your organization up for failure.
  • A list of the true decision makers in the organization. Which may or may not be the same as the board and/or senior team. If she really can’t make a decision without running it by the assistant conference director (for whatever reason), she needs to know.
  • The time and structured opportunities to get to know people. It’s hard to do this, because a new CEO will want to hit the ground running with all her great new ideas, and that’s good and appropriate (that’s why you hired her, right?), but she also needs space to get familiar with the staff and internal dynamics and current culture.
  • Clarity about people’s real expectations. Does the board expect her to lead, or to manage process? Is she supposed to be a change agent, or not upset the apple cart? What level of interaction do staff members want and expect?
  • All your policies, processes, procedures, work plans, strategic plans, audited financials, board books, committee books, schedules, style guides, branding rules, annual reports, etc. But don’t dump it all on her in a big pile all at once. Create a clearly labeled library on a shelf in her office so can review and assimilate all the information at her pace.
  • A group of CEO peers she can turn to when she has questions that aren’t appropriate for the board or her #2. That’s probably something she needs to put together for herself, but you could do worse than suggesting ASAE’s CEO membership and symposia and, if appropriate and offered in your area, something like DC SAFE.

CEO transitions are scary for everyone – the new CEO, the outgoing CEO, the board, the staff, the membership – but with some preparation, transparency, and cutting everyone some slack, they can also be a springboard to take your association to even greater heights.

Why Are We Still Doing Annual Performance Reviews?

Ah the dread performance review. You know the drill. You fill out some far too lengthy form where you’re trying to be “balanced” (whether you’re evaluating yourself to meet with your boss or evaluating your staff so you can meet with them), so there’s some bad and more good. You weigh people against goals that were set 12 months previously, and try to come up with goals that will be in some way useful or to the point 12 months hence. Then you have a fraught, stilted meeting, everyone signs off, and you file the paperwork, sigh with relief, and go back to your normal job.


“But HR makes us fill out the stupid form!”

You’re right. They do.

Who says that form has to be the alpha and omega of working with your staff to help them develop as professionals?

First of all, unless something good or bad happened in the last week, there should be NOTHING on that HR mandated form that comes as a surprise.

Correct problems when they come up. Coach in the moment. Don’t wait. You may have misunderstood the situation, and even if you were right, and your staff member did screw up, you’ve wasted how much time that that person could’ve been doing things better?

But who says you only get to offer praise once a year? Set goals once a year? Revise goals and expectations once a year? Consider professional development once a year?

That’s just dumb.

Things change. People change. Situations change. Have you ever looked a goal you set a year ago and wondered what in the hell you were thinking? And now you’re bound to the damn thing, whether you will or not? Why? Amend the form. Tell your boss and HR what you’re doing and why.

But most importantly, review performance every day – yours, your boss’s, your staff members’, everyone. Praise, coach, re-evaluate where your organization is going and how you all can best contribute to getting there. Every day.

And yeah, you’ll still have to fill out and file the stupid form. But it won’t hurt nearly as much, and it won’t be the be-all, end-all of making your organization better.

Innovation: Small Staff v. Large Staff

In the past 14 years, I’ve held a variety of positions in association management: senior staff in a mid-sized professional academic society, senior staff/acting CEO for a small ed-tech association, consulting, and now mid-level management at a large medical trade association.

Each place has had upsides and downsides. The academic society was in my “official” field (from undergrad and grad school), so I was really engaged in the meat of what we did and felt a deep personal connection with my members. I had the opportunity to manage a fantastic team, most of whom I’m still in touch with 14 years later. But tradition weighs particularly heavy on an august association of PhDs. Even though I had good internal support to try new things, there was only so far we could go. And the annual meetings were murder!

The small association was nimble and innovative, and I had pretty much totally free reign to try anything I wanted. We turned on a dime and had an AMAZING mission and community. Unfortunately, resources – staff, time, money, capacity, space – were a constant problem. Comes with the territory, but we constantly struggled to figure out ways to push all our great ideas forward on the cheap (or preferably, the free).

Consulting brought lots of fun, exciting variety, and I got to meet and work with terrific people from all sorts of associations, finding out about worlds I never would have encountered otherwise (and I got to work with a metallurgy organization staffed and led by a bunch of guys who reminded me a lot of my dad, which rocked – I love engineers!). But I was often in the position of turning over a bunch of (hopefully) useful recommendations that would have an immediate positive impact, with an “OK! Let me know how it goes!” It killed me to mostly not be able to help make change happen.

Large organizations allow you to be more specialized, so you develop deeper expertise in your areas of responsibility. Resources are rarely a serious impediment. And once again, great mission (there may be a theme here). But decision making can be glacial, and it’s often not entirely clear who needs to be involved in a given decision until you’re down the path and someone’s upset they’ve been left out.

So here’s my question for you, association peeps: how does one bring some of the good things small staff organizations enjoy with regards to new ideas and nimbleness to a large organization?

That’s not rhetorical – I’d really like your thoughts.

Resume Tips for New Professionals

And good reminders for not-so-new professionals.

I’ve recently been reviewing resumes (a LOT of resumes) for a summer internship NACHRI is looking to fill, and I have some advice to offer as a result:

The MOST important thing? On the first pass, I’m looking for a reason to knock you out. Don’t give me an easy one.

In addition:

  • Proofread.
  • If the ad calls for specific experience, make sure your resume talks about that specific experience.
  • Don’t provide too much information. If you’re still in college, you don’t merit a 3 page resume. Really, you don’t.
  • But don’t provide too little, either. I got one resume that was gorgeous to look at – pretty font for the name, lots of white space, beautiful lay out. It included – I’m not kidding – 4 really minimal pieces of information. That’s not enough to help me figure out whether or not you’re worth talking to.
  • Pay attention to the job requirements – if you have to have a specific degree or certification, don’t apply if you don’t have it.
  • I know it’s easier for YOU to just call your resume “Resume.doc” or even “NACHRI.doc.” That’s not easier for me. Call it “MyName-NACHRI-Resume.doc.” See? Easy for both of us!
  • Don’t list “Internet browsing” under your skills, tech or otherwise. Telling me you know how to surf the web is not going to dispose me to interview you. Five year olds know how to surf the web.
  • “Your job is perfect for ME ME ME!” Uh, no. It’s about how are YOU going to help NACHRI, not how NACHRI is going to help YOU.
  • Don’t use a “creative” (aka “illegible”) type font. It doesn’t show me what a special, unique flower you are. It shows me that you don’t care if I can read your resume or not.
  • Did I mention proofread? And not just for things like misspelled words. Don’t write an objective that includes “looking for a job at XX” when you’re sending the resume to “YY.”

What about you? What advice can you share to help new job seekers?


It’s not a meme, but…

What are your professional learning habits?

Jeffrey Cufaude poses this question and answers it well.

He also asked other people to weigh in, so…


Read voraciously

And not just business books which, for the most part, at least in my experience, are just going to make you dumber. Don’t just read “fast food” fiction either. Read non-fiction. Read literary fiction. Read great magazines like MIT’s Technology Review, the New Yorker, and GQ (where the feature writing is OUTSTANDING). Read classics. Read stuff that’s been translated from some other language. Read the paper. Read smart bloggers, and not just those who blog about association management. Re-read the books that changed your life in college or grad school. Read.

TED Talks

I definitely second Jeffrey’s TED Talks recommendation. Smart people talking about interesting stuff in 20 minutes or less. Again, don’t just view what you know – seek out stuff that’s completely unfamiliar.


When you get invited to speak, attend the full conference if at all possible, even if it’s not specifically in your field. There are limits to this. I had the opportunity to attend the AAP conference when I first started at NACHRI, and I attended the general sessions, but the breakouts were way the hell over my head. But I went to the general sessions, and heard some great talks. And when you’re there, use the opportunity to talk to people (aka “the other attendees”) you otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to meet, particularly if they seem different from you in some major way (age, gender, where they live, race/ethnicity, profession, seniority, etc.). Actually, that’s good advice for life in general.


This is a topic I revisit here periodically, but I cannot overstress the importance of occasionally going off the grid for awhile. Our brains, our psyches, and our hearts need time away from the electronic hamster wheel. Different people need different amounts of time away and at different intervals of frequency, but we all need some time out to process, think, recharge, and refresh. (And yes, I think Seth Godin’s “if you really loved what you were doing, you’d never need time off” position is complete and utter bullshit.)

What are your professional learning habits?