In a discussion recently on LinkedIn, I asked a group "why do you think executive turnover is so high in the nonprofit sector and what can we do to help the leader stay in one spot for longer?" The response I got was interesting - the majority of the respondents felt that high turnover was good because it was a chance for the organization to have new ideas infused and to not get stuck in a rut. Despite all the opinions of this nature I couldn't help but see the collateral damage of high leadership turnover: low staff morale, inconsistent culture, lack of trust in the organization's leadership, high financial costs of finding replacement etc. I know that organizations need a continuous flow of fresh ideas but I could not see how turning over the CEO every 4-5 years could be a good thing.
As I continued to read Forces for Good, I came across a fascinating fact; successful executive directors and their top teams have extraordinarily long tenure staying, on average, 20 years. However according to the Daring to Lead 2011 report, statistically just 25% of nonprofit executives expect to stay in their jobs for more than five years.
What are some of the costs of high-turnover in leadership?
1. Real impact often takes decades, not years. If you continue to change the plan, it is incredibly more difficult to get any traction towards your goals.
2. Executive directors and senior managers spend much of their time cultivating relationships - if a leader leaves, some of these are lost.
3. Most nonprofit work relies of tacit knowledge embodied in the staff; when top leaders leave, the organization loses accumulated wisdom and skills.
4. Because the issues that nonprofits are trying to solve are so complex, constant leadership change causes the organization to focus more internally, rather than on external results.
5. Emotional damage to the team having to adjust and then readjust every time their leadership team changes.
6. Financial costs. It has been estimated that the costs of recruiting, interviewing, hiring and on boarding an ED can cost up to $50,000 - money in most cases that the organization could better spend somewhere else.
7. Mission drift as each new leader has their own take on how to best grow the organization.
What do you think? Is high-turnover good for the sector or is it a disruption to the organization fulfilling its strategy?
Author: Natasha Golinsky, Wife, Mom, Fire Starter, Vision Technician: Helping Nonprofit Executive Directors Transform Strategic Plans Into World-Changing Results.