CEO to CEO: Take Back A Bad Decision

Bad decisions and communicating with departments.

If you could take back one business decision you've made in the last five years, what would it be?

The biggest business decision I wish I could take back was a conscious decision not to terminate an ineffective staff person. I trusted and believed the individual could turn things around far longer than I should have. I failed to listen well, and I missed seeing this individual's negative impact on the work and productivity of others. It may seem kind to keep an individual and believe they can turn things around. It's a burden to everyone else, though. I remind myself of this story regularly when I struggle with or see someone else struggle with staffing decisions. Doing nothing with a poor performer is a business decision, and it's a bad one.

—Mary K. Logan, CAE, CEO, Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation, Arlington, Virginia. Email: [email protected]

I would take back letting my emotions get in the way of promoting a certain individual. I really liked this person and wanted to see him do well, but he was not management material. I went with my emotions and promoted him. It was a disaster. We lost business and some very good people because of his attitude. In the long run that decision was wrong not only for him but for the rest of our team as well.

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

Many years ago, my board made the decision to aggressively market a new statewide advertising program based on units that would be sold during a specific period for the industry. This was 180 degrees opposite what [the board] had done in the past. Previously, reserves were built up to pay for the program before it started. However, timing was everything, and the board moved forward making the change before the funds were in place.

Well, it worked, until we had an economic setback, and the funding dried up. I should have held my ground. We ended up paying for the program months after it ran out because of contractual obligations. Naturally, the old board that approved the program was no longer around, and the new board was not happy with this budget obligation under their watch.

—Tim DeWitt, CAE, executive director, Michigan Manufactured Housing, Recreation Vehicles, and Campground Association, Okemos, Michigan. Email: [email protected]

Several years ago, in a complete panic, I made a really bad hire, and I wish I had never done it. I decided to hire someone who I was really on the fence about hiring, only because my two top candidates had ultimately turned down the offer. Because I was extremely busy at that point and the notion of soliciting and reviewing another group of applications seemed increasingly daunting, I made a very poor decision to go with this third choice. Even as I did it, I knew in my heart it was not a smart move. Never again. Even if it takes me months upon months, I will only hire someone with whom I am satisfied. Let this be a warning to others out there—spend the time up front and follow your gut when it comes to hiring employees.

—Patricia A. Epple, CAE, executive director, Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Email: [email protected]

How do you stay involved in what's going on in each department of your association?

I try to maintain close contact with each department within SCCM. Our staff intranet has an area for departmental news; each department keeps everyone else apprised of their recent accomplishments and activities. I make an effort to read this regularly. I hold regular lunch meetings with departmental directors, and we discuss departmental issues at our staff leadership team meetings. Finally, twice annually I have breakfast with the staff from each department. At this departmental breakfast meeting I encourage them to come with questions and concerns, along with an answer to this question: "What can I do to make your job easier, more productive, or more enjoyable?" It's amazing the things I learn at these meetings, and I make sure to follow up on items that have been brought to my attention.

—David J. Martin, CAE, CEO/executive vice president, Society of Critical Care Medicine, Mount Prospect, Illinois. Email: [email protected]

Every Monday, each senior director submits a brief report of the priorities for the week in their areas, as well as any problems or barriers to getting work done. The report is sent to me and the other members of the executive staff so that we have some level of knowledge about what is going on and how smoothly systems are flowing (or not). Our weekly executive staff meetings are now occurring one to two times a month due to travel schedules and the ability to communicate via email.

Leigh Wintz, CAE, executive director, Soroptimist International of the Americas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Email: [email protected]

I have an individual one-on-one meeting with each department head. They have the opportunity to bring me up to date on current and future projects, and we discuss next steps and schedules. The second step is that we have a meeting involving all department heads. My knowing what is happening is important, but it is equally important for our other leaders to share insights for improving what we do and how we do it.

—Don Klein, CEO, Greater Nashville Association of Realtors, Nashville, Tennessee. Email: [email protected]

As a progressive nonprofit membership organization, we have found a way to increase employee satisfaction, keep costs down, and maintain diversity by having a truly virtual office. Communication between our staff, without four walls, is challenging. However, we hold weekly staff conference calls and meet face to face biannually to conduct a retreat and team-building exercises. As the executive director, I have an open "door" to my staff, speaking often about projects and current initiatives.

—Robin Wooten, executive director, Society for Simulation in Healthcare, Tipton, Missouri. Email: [email protected]

I stay involved by meeting regularly with senior staff, occasionally participating in staff meetings, and spending one-on-one time with program staff.

—Greta J. Stewart, CAE, executive director, Oklahoma Primary Care Association, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Email: [email protected]

CEO to CEO Video: How do you handle stress?

Bill Anderson, CAE, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Georgia, talks about he handles CEO-level stress.