Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Organizational Conflict: New Executive Director = Unhappy Employees

Back a couple years ago I was working with an organization that had lost its long-time Executive Director. So, they conducted a search, found a new ED and everyone lived happily ever after.

Not quite so fast...when the new ED started, she seemed great. Everyone got along with her, and she seemed to truly care about the organization. That is until she told a homosexual employee that she thought homosexuality was wrong. And she started not showing up at meetings. Oh, and she started talking about employees with other employees. She also starting talking about changing the focus of some programs, and eliminating others because her personal morals/viewpoints didn't jive with those program's focuses. There were so many other issues, I honestly cannot list them all here.

Did I mention this was a tiny organization (staff of 8) and were all friends? Well, needless to say a couple short months after she started the staff were unhappy. Don't get me wrong, this was obviously not a case new boss-itis. The fundamental problem was that the organization and the Board did not have a clear process for how to deal with this. When one employee went to the Executive Director with her complaints, and later the Board, the Executive Director tried to fire her. When the Executive Director heard another employee went to the Board, she did fire her. The situation got completely out of hand.

Eventually, after the remaining employees had issued numerous complaints to the board (and another employee was fired because she also said something about the ED), the board finally let the ED go. This could have all been resolved if the Board had been more welcoming and discreet about employees coming to them with complaints (they actually told employees they had to tell the ED first about their complaints per the "policy"). This is why it is important to have policies surrounding non-retaliation, whistleblowers, and complaint processes.

Moral of the story: Have a clear policy for complaints against supervisors, and Executive Directors. Here, here, and here are a few to get you started.


Jamie Notter said...

Amen! Without clear policies, people too often choose to do nothing, which tends to make matters worse. I also think in Nonprofit systems like this we tend to overemphasize the control of the Executive Director. I know she CAN fire everyone, but at what cost? Boards need to understand that ED and staff operate together as a system, in my opinion.

ASinykin said...

It's so important for nonprofit staff to know they have an outlet. (And, Kristen, I didn't want you to forget the Charities Review Council has a template policy as well. Developed by one of our board members who is a nonprofit lawyer. http://tinyurl.com/cgduug)

Stephen said...

Excellent post. This highlights the need on a Board of Directors for a personnel committee, or at least a designated person on the Board to handle personnel issues. I have yet to be involved with an organization that did not run into issues like this - sometimes big issues, sometimes small. Having the infrastructure in place ahead of time to provide an outlet is essential. Thank you for this post.

Nonprofit SOS said...

Thank you for your comments, I completely agree.

Amy- Thanks for adding that link! :)

Jamie- I agree, when people choose to do nothing, then nothing get resolves and issues never just go away, they fester and get worse.

Stephen- Great suggestion, a personnel committee would definetly be helpful. It could be used for ED salary decisions as well, as I have found that that is another issue that there is some confusion about.

Jennifer said...

I completely agree. Thank you so much for posting this.

We all need feedback to improve and when an ED deliberately prohibits or retaliates when a staff person goes to the board, it suggests the individual is definately not looking for feedback.