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Strategy and Operations

Is It Time to Reinvent Your Leadership Team?

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CEOs rely on their senior leadership teams to make sure strategic goals move forward. That means when the right staff isn’t in place, leaders will need to rethink the composition of the team. While it’s not an easy process, it ensures that an association can deliver on all fronts.  

Neal Couture came into the CEO role at the American Society of Nondestructive Testing (ASNT) in July 2019 knowing that some changes in the leadership structure were in order.

“When organizations need to make significant changes to leadership, it’s typically motivated by profound leadership initiatives or through profound pain,” he said. “I was brought on board to help ASNT navigate several pain points, including financial problems, membership declines, programmatic failures, and other areas.”

Before he could focus on those areas, Couture turned his attention to the top of the organization—ensuring that ASNT had a senior leadership team in place that could move the organization forward.

“About 50 to 60 percent of staff were the wrong people in the wrong positions,” he said. “Many people on staff didn’t own their business process and were just doing what they were told. The organization was running on a management style that wasn’t conducive to productive employment.”

According to Greg Fine, FASAE, CAE, principal consultant at Tecker International, one sign that CEOs may need to rethink their senior team is if they no longer get a strong performance out of the group and realize they’re doing more managing than leading.

“You’re more focused on the throughputs than being engaged in strategic conversations with your senior team,” he said. “You’re focusing on how things get done instead of what your team is doing.”

Whether a CEO joins an association already knowing that changes are needed or if they reach that conclusion after careful observation, it’s important to think through next steps so that the senior leadership team aligns with the association’s strategy and can deliver on goals.

“Consider the capabilities and skills that your organization needs to reach its vision and then map those capabilities to your current leadership team and identify any potential gaps.”—Greg Fine, FASAE, CAE, Tecker International

Review Organizational Needs

After becoming CEO, Couture assessed ASNT’s business challenges and staff team and identified gaps.

“This assessment helps CEOs better understand the business they’re entering, the weaknesses and strengths, and determine the priorities,” he said.

When assessing senior staff, Fine recommends that CEOs rewrite position descriptions based on what the organization needs from the roles. If their skills align with the organization’s needs, that will help you decide whether those individuals should stay with the association.

“Consider the capabilities and skills that your organization needs to reach its vision and then map those capabilities to your current leadership team and identify any potential gaps,” Fine said.

Couture decided which senior leaders would stay on the team based on three factors. The first was attitude—whether they were optimistic, open to learning, and collaborative in their approach. Second, he considered their knowledge, skills, abilities, and whether they knew their business.

“The third factor was performance,” he said. “Did they get things done, were they organized, were they effective communicators? The managers that I replaced generally didn’t meet two of the three criteria. I could always work with people who were short in one area to get them to where we needed to be.”

Tough Choices and Next Steps

Even if it’s necessary, letting go of current team members isn’t an easy decision or process. According to Fine, CEOs may find it helpful to focus on the capabilities their organization needs, rather than the individuals in the position.

“Take the people out of the equation,” he said. “You’re looking at whether necessary skills exist among your leadership team, if they’re elsewhere in the organization, or if you need to look outside of the organization for them.”

When CEOs have determined who needs to leave, it’s important to approach those conversations respectfully and to recognize the work they’ve done for the organization.

“Everyone is different,” Fine said. “Some individuals can take that conversation well. But for others, you will need to explain that just because they aren’t a good fit doesn’t mean they aren’t talented or valuable.”

The other part of the process—hiring new senior leadership—also requires a thoughtful approach.

“It’s not about just ensuring they can fill the position; it’s also about how they will work with you, with the rest of senior leadership, and with their teams,” Fine said. “Be clear about what the organization needs from them and how you, in turn, can help them in your capacity.”

ASNT has seen positive changes since Couture reinvented the leadership team and made other changes to the association. The association’s revenue has grown 15 percent on average each year for the past three years (except during the pandemic). ASNT’s surveys show that member engagement has increased every year as members are seeing the value provided by the association.

“ASNT has become a thought leader in association management,” Couture said. “We have had more than a dozen program speakers at association industry events and won more than 10 industry awards for our publications, videos, and content over the past four years. The level of innovation and creativity has increased dramatically. Before we were focused on getting the work done, now it’s about creating member value.”

Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now.

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