It’s one of the toughest jobs that nonprofit CEOs have to face... the need for organizational staffing changes. Over the years, while serving as a CEO of different nonprofits, I have found myself often looking at an outdated organizational chart (if they had one!) and wondering - "What do all these people do?" and "How are they adding value to our mission?"
It’s a tough question and, candidly, not a question many leaders want to ask because when we do, we are faced with the reality that some of those positions are no longer needed to support our missions or are no longer relevant in today’s ever-changing environment.
And this ever-changing nonprofit environment means we need new roles and skills to drive our mission that couldn’t even be envisioned 20, 10, or even 5 years ago.
There’s nothing tougher than telling committed and passionate employees that their roles no longer help the organization move forward. And worse, if they’re a long-tenured employee, you’re faced with knowing that you’re sending a dedicated and loyal employee out the door.
It’s a dilemma for many nonprofit CEOs, but one we need to face head-on. As nonprofit leaders, we have a stewardship obligation to our organizations to do what’s right for our missions and we have a fiduciary obligation to our organizations and donors to ensure their donations are being put to the “highest and best use”.
As callous as it may sound, you are not an employment agency.
With the exception of job placement nonprofits, your organization’s role is not to employ people for the sake of employing people. It is to accomplish your mission and deliver value to your constituents. And that means making sure you have the right people in the right roles doing the right things for your mission.
While the transition of staff out of an organization is never easy, you can minimize the disruption to the organization while you're going through it.
Here are some simple tactics I used while leading big organizational shifts as the CEO of two different nonprofits:
1 // Acknowledge that just because a role is no longer needed, doesn’t mean the person occupying it did anything wrong. Sometimes the needs of the organization just change and it’s nobody’s fault.
2 // Ensure that the person delivering the news to the affected employee about their termination has been trained to deliver the news with as much dignity, respect, and empathy for the person as possible.
3 // Provide as much transition support for the affected employees as the organization can afford. These items can include things such as: outplacement assistance, payout of leave balances, training, extension of benefits; paid COBRA coverage, and job referrals to similar organizations.
4 // Thank the people affected for their service to the organization. While this may seem like it could come across as trite, I’ve seen time and time again in organizational changes that if you genuinely let people know that the decision was about the mission and not about them personally and truly thank them for their work over their years of service, more often than not, it’s appreciated.
5 // Communicate transparently with the remaining staff. It’s also a reality that while those not affected by staff changes will feel a sense of relief; they will also feel guilt that their colleagues and friends are no longer with the organization while they still are. Share the rationale for the changes, reiterate these were business decisions and that the impacted employees did nothing wrong, and let the staff know what the organization did to help their colleagues transition (such as outplacement support).
6 // Share your thoughts with the remaining staff about how the changes help the mission moving forward and paint a vision of where the organization is headed into the future and how each of them will play an important role in that future. It always eases people’s anxiety if they feel they know why a decision was made, and more importantly, that there is a plan and a vision for the future.
No doubt, nonprofit and social sector leaders have tough jobs.
We’re called on to address some of the world’s toughest problems and in doing so, sometimes we have to make some of the toughest decisions. Just know that if you always do what’s in the best interest of your mission and treat people with dignity and respect throughout the process, you’ve done what many nonprofit leaders are too afraid to do – even though the future of their missions may depend on it!