CEO to CEO: Staff Turnover and Industry-Versus-Association Experience

Your colleagues discuss how they handle sudden staff departures and whether they prefer to hire association-management experts or industry experts.

I came to the association in 2005, and I worked under an amazing mentor who resigned unexpectedly in late 2006. Our board immediately went to work setting up interviews for a new executive director. There was so much for [the new executive director] to learn about the association. Dozens of boxes with no organization were handed to him, and random emails were continuously sent with "important documents." Six months later, he resigned.

I ended up getting the position after the third interview and was handed over an even bigger mess. Now I strive to organize and catalog our information in a way that can easily be handed over to the next executive director. If this isn't done, I am not doing my job.

—Monica M. Deromedi, executive eirector, Coalbed Natural Gas Alliance, Kirby, Wyoming. Email: [email protected]       

First of all, it may have been sudden; however, tell-tale signs may have been given. The question remains: Did we just not notice?

Having said that, our first step would be to meet with her supervisor and HR to think through both a short-term and long-term plan. With effective systems in place, it is not difficult to identify what was on her plate and what needs to be reassigned.

With that in hand, we then take proactive steps to immediately advise the association president (and other individuals) of the departure and instill a sense of calm and stability and a preliminary plan. Shortly after the leadership is advised, it is important to bring the entire company together to share the news. Depending upon the set of circumstances, details of the departure may or may not be appropriate.

—G.A. Taylor Fernley, president/CEO, Fernley & Fernley, Inc., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Email: [email protected]

We network continuously to source talent, not necessarily in anticipation of a departure, but in anticipation of growth. Often those searches lead to opportunities for part-time work or project work that helps us evaluate people's skills and determines if they're a fit for our culture. By maintaining contact with those people over time, we have never been caught off guard by an unexpected departure of a key employee. We try to provide the type of work atmosphere that retains our key employees so that if there is a desire to leave there is enough loyalty that the person works with us closely on a transition plan.

—Lawrence J. Lynch, CAE, president, National Registry of Food Safety Professionals, Orlando, Florida. Email: [email protected]

Several years ago, the person in charge of our publications department came into my office and announced that she was quitting to return to her home in New England. Rather than accept her resignation, I talked to her about her plans as well as her second in charge. She had no plans, no job offer, but she was set on returning home. We had a small office near where she was going, so I offered her the chance to keep working for us while she trained her replacement. In essence, the two employees swapped jobs, allowing our former publications director to return to New England while continuing to work for us, thus keeping more than 25 years of institutional memory intact. This was truly a win-win. In fact, the two still work for INFORMS in the same positions.

—Mark G. Doherty, CAE, executive eirector, Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, Hanover, Maryland. Email: [email protected]

Does your organization prefer hiring from within the association world or within your industry?

I don't believe in master formulas when it comes to people. The skill set required for the position and the culture I seek for our office determines where I go for the new staff person. We represent a profession of environmental scientists. If I need an accountant, I wouldn't look for such a person within that population. Similarly, I doubt that I would look in the association world for an educator. Rather, I would hunt for such a person within the world of education.

As sacrilegious as this may sound, I don't often hire from the world of associations. I prefer to bring in a healthy mixture of experience and perspectives. That chemistry has served my office culture well. This diversity helps to ensure that many angles to challenges are examined.

—Nelson Fabian, executive director/CEO, National Environmental Health Association, Denver, Colorado. Email: [email protected]

We recently hired our first new employee and looked only in the association world. Knowledge of association management was a key criteria. I think this is important for small associations, where most everyone has to be a "generalist," and while each new employee brings some key skill sets, they really need to understand association management and membership-driven organizations.

—Ernie Hartong, executive director, Association of Residential Cleaning Services International, Columbus, Ohio. Email: [email protected]

Being involved in the auto industry and working with many auto dealers throughout the years, I have found that it is paramount to hire individuals who have experience in the auto industry. Auto dealers will endear themselves to and have a great deal of respect for an individual who can speak from experience. I can teach an employee the association business, but I cannot teach an employee all of the many facets of the auto industry.

—James R. Mitchell, executive director, Ohio Independent Auto Dealers Association, Brice, Ohio. Email: [email protected]

The preference depends on the nature of the position. Our information services dispense legal information and assist our members with best practices, which require first-hand knowledge of our members' operations. Our communications and education functions are knowledge conduits, and delivery of these services requires skills that are better learned by working in the association world. In the past, I have hired people who have exceptional abilities to adapt and compensate for having nontraditional backgrounds.

—G. Lawrence Merrill, CAE, executive director, Michigan Townships Association, Lansing, Michigan. Email: [email protected]

We do both. However, first we ask internally if anyone is interested in a specific opening and if they know someone who would be interested.

—Larry Montague, president/CEO, Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry, Norcross, Georgia. Email: [email protected]