HOW CAN YOUR BUSINESS BENEFIT FROM A FRACTIONAL LEADER?
And steps to find the right firm.
For those not familiar with the concept of fractional leadership, it is an efficient and cost-effective model for businesses to outsource functions when they do not have the expertise in-house or are going through a transition. This form of leadership offers an objective perspective and can guide businesses when faced with challenging decisions. Their role is to become a trusted advisor, lead through change, and offer unbiased advice.
This practical solution gives companies access to experienced talent without paying for the committed costs of a full-time employee with benefits. And based on the needs, this can either be a short or long-term engagement. Interim needs vary from filling a vacancy while a candidate search is taking place, to covering for an employee taking medical leave, or preparing your company for a merger.
As a result of our current economic environment, fractional leadership has become more popular. Businesses that have recently streamlined their operations have hired a fractional leader because they still need access to a high level of expertise and must close the leadership gap. A big challenge is finding a consultant that is the right fit for your company and qualified for the job. Equally important is making sure their values align with yours.
Here are steps to guide you through the process to find the firm that will deliver results and become a valued partner.
First. Clearly define your needs and challenges. List the goals, expectations, and deliverables for the engagement. What are the expectations upon completion of the project? Be sure to define the scope of work. Prepare and share any relevant materials such as financials, charts, policies, or other reports.
Second. Ask for referrals from a trusted source. Your CPA, banker, or attorney is a great resource. The more people you ask, the better understanding you will have of the marketplace. Pay attention to names that are mentioned repeatedly. If you are new to an area, local business groups or the chamber of commerce may be able to help.
Third. Do your research. Once you have a strong list of key players, look at their websites to see how their values and approach aligns with your needs and company culture. Talk to current and former clients, if possible, to hear first-hand about their working experience with the firm.
Fourth. Schedule meetings with the top firms. Conduct these meetings like you would conduct an interview. Prepare your questions ahead of time and share your goals and expectations.
Fifth. Pay attention to the following characteristics during these meetings:
- Unimpeachable character. First and foremost, a competent consultant must be a person of integrity who demonstrates professionalism, confidentiality, and commitment.
- Solid experience. A consultant’s work experience is their asset to you. Ask how many years of experience they have as well as training and degrees. The more seasoned they are, the more value-added solutions they are likely to provide. Also, consider the types of companies they have worked with before and knowledge they may have of your industry or relevant fields.
- Creative problem-solving skills. Understand what their approach will be to deliver a results-oriented solution. Does their response sound authentic? Are they able to provide specific examples of how they have addressed similar situations?
- Excellent interpersonal skills. Try to envision working with this individual and how well they will integrate with your team. Will they proactively address issues and conflict and minimize unneeded drama?
- Outstanding communication skills. Pay attention to how they communicate their thought process. Their ability to lay out their approach provides insight into their level of communication.
Once the interviews are over, expect to receive a detailed proposal from each firm. The proposal is an essential element of the decision-making process because it provides additional insight into thought processes and written skills. The proposal should capture:
1) The scope of work, as discussed during the meeting.
2) The approach to resolving the problem with milestones and a timeline.
3) A clearly defined cost and payment structure for the project.
4) The individual’s credentials and experience.
5) The firm’s strength, longevity, and reputation.
Consideration of value: While cost is always a factor, examine the entire package of expertise you are receiving for the investment you are making. Often a good consultant can provide a return many times the investment (ROI) through efficiencies, savings, and/or increased revenue.
Benefit of working with an entire firm vs. a single individual: When hiring a consulting firm, your businesses is more likely to be supported by a team of of professionals who know your business, have a wealth of experience, and a strong support system. The firm can bring together different skill sets from multiple disciplines to assist with a variety of challenges. The benefit of the team is having the backup, just in case.
After deciding which firm to engage, remember you can always ask for references. It is a step that can be revealing to help make you feel more comfortable with the choice.
Warren Whitney provides fractional leadership in the areas of HR, Finance & Accounting, and IT to include the roles of HR Leader, CFO, CTO, CIO, COO, and Controller. While we typically work in our clients’ offices, we can also work remotely. Based in Richmond, Virginia, we also serve clients throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia and beyond. We are passionate about the work we do and welcome the opportunity to speak about the services we provide. To learn more, please contact Stephanie Ford at SFord@warrenwhitney.com or 804.282.9566.
RETURN TO WORK STRATEGIES – How to navigate and protect your business for a smooth transition.
As Virginia starts a phased reopening by easing “stay at home restrictions,” businesses need a well-thought-out transition plan. Your plan should take into consideration not only your employees’ and customers’ health and safety, but also fiscal stability, strategic direction, and technology. This multi-layered plan must address regulations, the environment, and internal communications as well as the emotional well-being of your employees. Flexibility is critical, and your business will need to be positioned to respond to a changing landscape as the situation evolves.
When devising your plan, consider these pieces of advice from our team in the 4 areas we serve our clients.
PREPARE THE PHYSICAL WORKPLACE
- Give your office a post-pandemic makeover! Normalize the “6 feet rule” in the office and consider providing the baseline of PPE such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer.
- Regularly clean the worksite and follow the CDC guidelines. Consider hiring an industrial cleaning company or aks your existing professional cleaner about their standards.
- When planning the return to the office, consider:
- Flexible schedules to include part-time in the office and teleworking
- Create odd/even workdays in the office
- Stagger start and end times
- Designate days for specific work to be completed
It is important to note that doing everything possible to make the workplace clean demonstrates your commitment to maintaining a safe environment. This will build confidence and reduce the tension employees may have about returning to the workplace while COVID-19 concerns continue.
FOCUS ON INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS
- Communicate your organization’s policy explaining the protocol. Transparency is key; include the thought process of how and why you devised the policy.
- Make sure the policy is easily and readily accessible both online and in the workplace.
- Survey your employees regularly to understand their main concerns and that their voice is valued (i.e. survey monkey, calls, focus groups).
- Build a desire for workers to return to work and explain why especially if employees are successful at teleworking.
- Keep employees engaged and mentally healthy. An example could be collaborating with a local gym for virtual yoga classes.
Over communicate the safety protocols as the workforce re-enters the physical workplace. Employees will feel secure knowing management has considered federal guidance and is establishing procedures to develop a culture of safety.
Refer to the state guidelines. External guidelines can help bridge the gap between varying employee opinions. https://www.governor.virginia.gov/media/governorvirginiagov/governor-of-virginia/pdf/Virginia-Forward-Phase-One-Business-Sector-Guidelines.pdf.
FINANCE & ACCOUNTING
MANAGE INTERNAL CONTROLS
- Make sure internal controls continue to be practiced especially in the remote working environment.
- Investigate new ways to accomplish signature and approval responsibilities.
- Evaluate how receipts have been handled in light of “working-at-home.” Who is proofing cash receipts? How are deposits made and who makes them?
- Continue to communicate the controls and review of policy requirements.
- Review by-laws for borrowing/banking transactions requiring board involvement.
- Ensure all bank reconciliations have been prepared and company credit card receipts have been documented.
- Make sure all mail has been reviewed and time-sensitive items have been handled.
- Determine a rotating schedule on personnel to ensure there is at least one person in the accounting department who can be physically present the majority of the week.
- Take your ledger to the cloud (i.e. QuickBooks Online or remote access).
ESTABLISH FISCAL STABILITY
- Continue to forecast cash flow and report out with your team weekly.
- Run various forecasting scenarios to reflect potential best and worst-case scenarios.
- Rebuild your operating cash reserve. If you recently took shortcuts, document where you mitigated risk. It is easier to remember now than when you are being audited.
- Monitor PPP forgiveness and everchanging rules for new SBA loans.
- Develop a strategy to: improve liquidity, build working capital reserves, and access credit facilities. There is no guarantee there will be an additional aggressive stimulus package.
DOCUMENT LESSONS LEARNED
- Do your post mortems. What did you learn that would have been helpful had you put it in place beforehand? Can you do it now and be more prepared if/when we are forced back into lockdown?
- Record your organization’s strengths and build action steps around weaknesses, threats and opportunities.
POSITION FOR SUCCESS
- Evaluate business partnership and merger opportunities to ensure the relevancy and strength of your organization.
- Consider potential alternative revenue streams. Work with your team and board to identify innovative and creative strategies that are mission-aligned to retain your organization’s relevancy and success.
- Bring new thought leaders to the table to help reposition your organization in innovative ways.
- Consider a mini-board retreat to reevalute and modifiy your strategic plan.
TECHNOLOGY & OPERATIONS
UNDERSTAND YOUR TECHNOLOGY
- Survey management and staff to identify issues with technology and processes; record these issues (small or large – either may cause bigger problems).
- Evaluate your relationships with your vendor partners. Ask yourself:
- Can they support technology changes?
- How will we be impacted if they go out of business?
- Will my business have the rights to continue using software provided by the vendor?
- Regularly review your information security and technical risks. With malicious activity on the rise, risks need to be addressed by a combination of policies, technology, manual controls, training, and knowledgeable support staff.
PLAN FOR CHANGE
- Be prepared to address new customer and partner expectations.
- Re-consider new technology that has been put off that may help stabilize operations. Evalute the short and long-term benefits of the technology changes. If choosing to upgrade, be patient when training employees and remember this is a huge change for all involved.
- Think outside the box when resolving issues or ways to increase efficiencies. Even if you are not ready to make changes now, do the research so you are prepared to react when needed.
If you have any questions or seek further clarification on these items, please call us at 804.282.9566. Warren Whitney is available to evaluate your new operating environment. Our fractional assistance and project work can help you think through decisions. We can put together cash flow projections, manage HR issues, adapt technology and processes, and devise a strategic plan. We Make Potential Happen.
Contributor: Katherine Whitney, Warren Whitney Co-Founder and Director
Preparing for the Next Gen of Nonprofit CEOs
As organizations change, we will see many opportunities for new nonprofit CEOs. If you are part of the leadership of a nonprofit, there are steps you should take. Alternatively, if you are outside of the field and want your career path to lead to becoming a nonprofit CEO / Executive Director, you also should be preparing.
Nonprofit CEO Succession Planning
Every nonprofit should have a succession plan and many do. But when it comes time to select a new CEO, you may find there are some important steps left to complete.
- Form a search committee. It is a board’s responsibility to select the next CEO, but who should be on the search committee? We recommend at least one person who knows the organization well and at least one person who is newer to the Board and who has several years left in his/her term. A best practice is to include the expected next board chair, perhaps as the committee chair.
- Be clear about the search committee’s role. Begin with what’s needed for the role and attributes. The committee and the board should be clear about whether the search committee’s job is to present one candidate to the board for approval or to present the top two or three final candidates for the board to debate the final selection. We recommend the first approach.
- Assess the position and direction of the organization to determine the skills and experience needed in the next CEO. This analysis is vital to help candidates self-assess whether this is the right opportunity for them, and it will serve as a guide for the search committee to evaluate final candidates. Avoid letting the pendulum swing to the far side of the skills and attributes of the current CEO. It is understandable to want attributes that the current CEO lacks, but a big swing is often too much of a shift for staff and boards to handle.
- Check the market to determine competitive compensation. Long-term CEOs may have allowed the board to slip out of the competitive range in compensation. It’s best to negotiate compensation with a good understanding of what’s reasonable and what the organization is able to pay.
These steps will help you prepare to move forward on your own or with the help of a search consultant.
Nonprofit Professional Career Development
Do you want to be a nonprofit CEO? That question isn’t just a lead into an article on “how to become…” it’s the first question you should ask yourself after you assume that, to have a career successful for you, that should be your goal. There are many important roles in nonprofits, and if becoming a nonprofit CEO is your dream, make sure you’re ready to handle responsibilities such as:
- Raising money. With very few exceptions, a nonprofit CEO’s top responsibility is to raise money for the organization. The CEO is the outward face, telling the story to increase awareness, building relationships, and ultimately making the “ask.” If that doesn’t sound like fun, you should rethink the path.
- Analyzing your financial position. While you may be able to get some help here from your Finance Director/CFO or from board members, in the end, you have to understand the financial drivers and the impact operating decisions have on your financial position.
- Managing people. Most rewarding, you have the opportunity to help others develop in their careers and to carry out your worthwhile mission. Along the way, however, you’ll have to address performance problems and possibly terminate employees for any of a number of reasons.
If you can check the “yes, I want to do that” box on those areas, read on for some suggestions.
- Round out your experience. If you are in the program or operations side of your organization, find a way to get involved in Development/Fundraising. Learn more about your organization’s development goals, and find ways to support them. Help with grant writing and grant management; participate in calls; take seminars to learn how fundraising works. If you are on the development side, look for ways to get experience in managing people. Many smaller nonprofits have only one or two development professionals; as a CEO, it’s likely that you’ll manage a team. Build some type of proof that you’ll be able to lead a team.
- Learn how to analyze financial positions. Take some classes. Become responsible for creating and managing part of your organization’s budget. Review your organization’s financial statements to make sure you understand them.
- Build your network. There’s often so much to do between job responsibilities and family that networking gets pushed aside. When you’re known in the community, you’ll find that interesting opportunities to advance your career come your way more often.
- Make sure your personal financial house is in order. Your credit history matters. If you make the list of finalists for a CEO position, it’s likely that you’ll have a background and credit checks run. If you can’t manage your personal finances, the hiring committee should wonder whether you can manage the organization’s.
Finally, when you find yourself as a candidate for a CEO job, make sure you do your homework and ask thoughtful questions. It will impress the search committee, and it may keep you from jumping at an opportunity that really is too good to be true. Every job opening and job search should be a two-way process. As a candidate, you are “selling” your capabilities, and you are also committing the next stage in your career to the new organization, so be sure you are investing wisely.
To learn more about board development, please contact Katherine Whitney at 804.282.9566 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Board Room Confidential: Working term limits to your advantage
It happens all the time. Board members serve for long, extended periods of time, sometimes indefinitely. This can make for a difficult and uncomfortable situation. You are grateful and value your board members’ dedication to your organization …. But it is time for some fresh ideas. A common question asked is:
HOW CAN WE BEST HANDLE THIS SENSITIVE TOPIC?
We interviewed Katherine Whitney, our cofounder and managing partner on this topic. She recently dealt with this common pushback and having over 30 years of experience in the industry, who better to explain:
- Why term limits are so important; the risks in not having them and their added value.
- The best approach to part ways amicably and keep these individuals engaged in the organization.
- How best to move forward.
Question: Why bother with term Limits?
Katherine Whitney: Term Limits are a tough topic to tackle. You can get away without them as long as it works, but when it stops working, I believe the organization is at greater risk of not making a smooth transition. Here are some of the risks in not having term limits:
- One or more people stop doing the work that needs to be done by board members, and there’s no graceful way to have them rotate off the board. I’ve seen this happen with board members who love an organization and who have worked hard for it, but at some point, they just get tired or get involved in other things. Because the organization is important to them, they don’t want to resign; because they’ve done great work in the past, others on the Board are hesitant to ask them to rotate off. Then that lack of work lowers the standard for engagement for all Board members.
- Especially, for an original founding board, there is the risk that a large part of the board wears out all at once. Several key people are suddenly really ready to rotate off, but no one has been brought along to replace them.
- People who are not on the Board but who are interested in the organization begin to sense that there’s no place for them at the governing level.
- Adding new people to the Board increases the opportunity to broaden the circle. A Board that is filled with legacy Board members doesn’t have enough space for new members.
Question: Can we say goodbye on good terms?
KW: Absolutely. Most organizations have community leaders associated with them. They can roll off the Board when their terms are up, stay off for a year and stay engaged, and come right back on to start a new term. That can work well.
Another option is to consider an emeritus category. Typically, you would limit the number of spots available, but this would give you a handful of spots for Board members who have gone above and beyond. These seats are forever but are usually non-voting.
Question: How do we continue to bring new and fresh talent to join our board?
Answer: Cultivating and engaging new board members is challenging. I often compare it to the discipline of getting & staying in shape. It’s hard to build the processes and transitions that are needed, and you need to give yourself some time and be regulated about taking the right steps.
It’s best to get some buy in from Board members before you approach new people. It’s important to have a process that the governance (aka nominating or board development) committee takes to:
- Determine the skills and experience needed from new board members
- Identify potential new board members
- Agree on which ones to approach
In short, the lesson is clear. Term Limits are a necessity. They act as a safeguard not only for the organization but also to keep a healthy and productive environment in the board room.
Katherine Whitney is a co-founder and managing partner of Warren Whitney. With more than 30 years of experience in helping organizations reach their potential, Katherine has a passion for helping to strengthen non-profit organizations by building good business practices to support their missions. Katherine holds an MBA from University of North Caroline at Chapel hill, and a BS in Mathematics from Davidson College. She is also a graduate of Leadership Metro Richmond and a BoardSource Certified Governance Trainer. If you are looking for help with your business, email Katherine at KWhitney@warrenwhitney.com .
Katherine Whitney is a co-founder and director of Warren Whitney. She has over 25 years of experience in helping organizations reach their potential. She has a passion for helping to strengthen nonprofit organizations by building good business practices to support their missions.
Most of Katherine’s work involves understanding the current position of an organization and working with its staff, management, board members, and other supporters to determine strategic direction and to create an approach to implement that strategy. In addition to facilitating strategic plans, Katherine uses the strategic direction of the organization to support:
- Board development in areas such as board education, board member cultivation, board assessments, and governance guidelines.
- Mergers of nonprofits from the feasibility study through implementation.
- Organizational work such as succession plans and Executive Director / CEO Searches.
Katherine works across a number of nonprofit sectors, including education, human services, animal rescue, historic sites, conservation, membership organizations and foundations. Her approach for an engagement is tailored to each organization with particular attention given to the organization’s culture.
Katherine’s training work includes topics such as “Roles and Responsibilities of Board Members,” “Board and Management Partnerships,” “Cultivating New Board Members,” and “Nonprofit Mergers.” She conducts training for specific organizations as well as for groups representing a mixture of organizations.
Education and Service:
Katherine received her MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her BS in Mathematics from Davidson College.
Current community service includes serving on the boards of Northstar Academy, a K-12 special education school, and the Church Schools of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.
Previous board involvement includes St. Catherine’s School, The Virginia Home for Boys and Girls, the Heart of Virginia Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the advisory board of the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond, The Greater Richmond Partnership, The Richmond Chamber, and RichTech. She is a 1992 graduate of Leadership Metro Richmond.
She has been a speaker on a national seminar circuit for manufacturers and currently facilitates workshops on nonprofit governance topics. She is a BoardSource Certified Governance Trainer.
Contributor: Katherine Whitney
Many boards and nonprofit CEOs are quick to reel back at the mention of a possible merger. For some, considering a merger may be a necessity – for others it may just be a best practice as forward thinking leaders. Important considerations include timing, mission alignment, operational fit and process.
When should nonprofit leaders think about possible mergers? An obvious trigger point is when an organization is financially unable to sustain its mission. In such circumstances, a merger may be a necessary option. A less urgent time may be when, in the course of regular collaboration with others in your sector, you find partners that may be able to achieve more through a merger than either organization could separately. A final example is when there is a change in a nonprofit’s CEO. Strong boards are not afraid of thinking through whether a merger can strengthen their leadership talent. In any of these cases, the decision may not be to pursue a merger, but by considering the option the board has taken an important step in pursuing its fiduciary duty.
What organizations are potential partners? Some proponents of mergers seem to support a broad array of combinations of entities. That’s not the best approach. Once CEOs and/or boards have agreed on potential merger partners, serious testing of their mission alignment is in order. Ensure that each party understands the other’s mission, vision, values and core programs. A good test of alignment is to see whether the current mission of either party could serve as the mission for both. Alternatively, draft a test mission statement that would be appropriate for the combined entities. If you can’t write a compelling draft statement, perhaps the alignment is not strong enough.
If the missions align, will the organizations fit? At this stage, a thorough feasibility assessment is in order. Start by assessing the culture of each organization. After mission, culture is the most important consideration – and the hardest to fix if there isn’t a good fit. Beyond culture, a partial list of considerations include:
- The impact on fund development. Will this strengthen the donor base, or will donors see this as an opportunity to cut funding?
- The new organizational structure. How will leadership responsibility be merged? Will positions be eliminated or will you need new positions?
- The financial impact. Will the new model save money for either organization or will additional funds be needed to achieve the new mission? What will need to change with compensation and benefits, and how much will that cost?
- Governance structure. Will the boards be merged? Will a smaller organization have one or more board seats after the merger?
- Corporate structure. What is the best structure for the reorganization? Merger? Acquisition? A new umbrella organization?
Are there any skeletons? Due diligence is an important step for both organizations. The goal should be to have “no surprises” after a merger. The list of due diligence documents includes corporate documents, minutes, financial statements, legal information and insurance information. It’s easy enough to find the long list of documents to exchange; it’s critical for the reviewer(s) to be thorough and experienced enough to identify areas for further investigation.
What happens after board approval? Leaders who have been through mergers will probably tell you that this is when the hard work begins. Each of the areas considered during the feasibility assessment needs an implementation plan built around the actual planned merger date. What legal documents need to be prepared, approved and filed? How do you bring staff together to form a new, well-integrated team? How will accounting systems be integrated? Who will actually serve on the board? What are the details of the insurance policy? One final, very important consideration, what is the communications plan?
The process is not trivial, especially when you remember that the basic work of the organizations needs to continue all throughout the process. Look for ways to provide assistance to the people leading the process; thank the CEOs and board leaders because they are doing more work than most people can imagine; and remember that it is worthwhile if you strengthen your ability to fulfill your organization’s mission.
Warren Whitney professionals are happy to provide additional insight on the merger process. Please don’t hesitate to call.
Contributor: Katherine Whitney
If you find a great nonprofit, you will often find a great board behind it. Workshops and webinars abound to ensure board members understand their roles and responsibilities. We encourage governance committees to have a written description of board member expectations that are discussed with potential board members. This article discusses some of the things that the best nonprofit CEOs do to help ensure they get the great boards they deserve.
The best CEOs:
- Establish a personal relationship with each board member. Board members, like most of us, tend to work harder to help people we know, trust and like. The more the CEO knows about board members, the more s/he will understand the skills they bring to the board and the things that motivate them. When there’s a job to be done, who is the best to ask, and how do you ask them?
- Judge how much time a board member wants to spend on the organization and respect the board member’s preferences. Some board members are “all in” and have plenty of time to give; others may be “all in” but have to work within work or family time constraints. Asking for too much, too often is a sure way to alienate a great board member.
- Ask board members to tackle assignments that are meaningful to them and helpful to the organization. Most board members want to make a difference. If it’s not clear to them that they are adding value, they are likely to focus their attention elsewhere.
- Provide good educational information to help board members stay abreast of key industry trends and issues. It is not unusual for a board member to join a board without a great depth of industry knowledge, certainly not enough to be effective at setting strategic direction. Books, articles and discussions will help them gain insight and a framework for making good decisions.
- Say “thank you” more often and in more ways than anyone can count – and thrice over if the board member has ever held the position of board chair.
- Find ways to keep past board members interested and engaged after their terms are over. By the time a board member rotates off the board, s/he should be one of the organization’s biggest advocates. It would be a shame to let a cheerleader like that lose interest. An annual event that brings them back to the organization – along with the friends they made while on the board can be an easy step in that process.
This is an ongoing process that progresses over a board member’s entire term. However, the best CEOs know that it starts as soon as the slate of new board member nominations has been approved.
A family-owned business-to-consumer (B2C) company, was going through a transition in leadership. The company was not operating with the guidance of a strategic plan, and the incoming president thought this would be an opportune time to develop a new strategic plan. A planning process also was an ideal way to begin to change the culture of the organization to make decision making more inclusive and collaborative at the management team level. The client engaged Warren Whitney’s Katherine Whitney and Scott Warren to work as a team through this process.
A new president had just been appointed to this nonprofit school. She and the board agreed that developing a strategic plan would help ensure that they had a common vision and agreement regarding important goals and priorities. Katherine Whitney facilitated the planning process.