New Roles for Association Pros
Environment and Sustainability

What to Consider Before Creating a New Department

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The need to build a new department within an association often signals growth or new business opportunities. But it’s not an easy process. To do it well, organizations must know their big-picture goals and be transparent along the way.

Although creating a new department in your association can be challenging, it’s often a sign that your association is growing or venturing into new markets or strategic areas.

“No textbook will tell you the right time to create a new department, but there are a lot of reasons to launch one,” said Mary Lynn Fayoumi, CEO and president of HR Source. “If one department’s workload is getting too heavy or you don’t have a staff specialist to execute the goals effectively, it may be the right time.”

Amy Riccardi, CEO of Leadership Evolution Group, recommends starting the planning process with end goals in mind.

“The bottom line is important,” she said. “Think about your outcomes and where you want the new team to go.”

For associations to successfully launch a new department, they must map out goals early on, determine where it fits on the org chart, communicate the strategy to current staff, and then thoughtfully onboard new team members.

Plot the Big Picture

Start by identifying why the new department is necessary. Common reasons may include that the work no longer fits within another department, or the new department will help the association pursue a new opportunity in the marketplace.

“Once you have the ‘why,’ you want to move onto the purpose,” Fayoumi said. “Determine the goals and how they differ from those of existing departments. That will drive the responsibility of the department.”

Sometimes a new department can cause confusion among staff about where work belongs. According to Riccardi, that’s because the initiative often already has a presence in the organization before becoming a department.

“Be clear about the big-picture strategy and get everyone onboard with a shared vision,” she said. “For example, DEI can mean different things to different organizations, so if you created a new DEI department, make sure to define what that team is being assembled for.”

Determine Where It Fits

As you plan the new department, map out the organizational structure based on the goals and initiatives you’ve already identified.

“Figuring out where the department fits can be defined by budget levels, visibility to the board, or level of deliverables expected,” Fayoumi said. “You want to define the relationship between the new department and the rest of the organization.”

A successful department needs a strong team made up of the right people. Keep in mind that the right people to lead the initial change may not be the same people best suited to stabilize the department in the long term.

“You need to find the right champions to get things started and the right people to maintain whatever the department is moving forward,” Riccardi said. “Different leaders have different strengths, so it’s important to be aware that you might need to bring in new hires after the initial launch.”

“No textbook will tell you the right time to create a new department, but there are a lot of reasons to launch one,” –Mary Lynn Fayoumi, HR Source
Environment and Sustainability

Get Current Staff on Board

Staff may not initially understand or support the new department, especially if you’re bringing in outside hires. Take the information you’ve already pulled together, such as the department’s goals and priorities, and explain those concepts to the entire staff team.

“The more transparent you are, the less staff will be confused,” Fayoumi said. “Some organizations move so quickly to these decisions and just assume everyone will get it and then the new department doesn’t feel supported.”

To get everyone on the same page, also be sure to explain to staff how the decision to create a new department is based on a business need that will benefit all of them and the association.

“People aren’t going to make a change unless they are emotionally invested,” Riccardi said. “They need to know what’s in it for them and the organization.”

Support the New Team

Keep in mind that the work doesn’t end after the department launches. Leaders should continue to promote and support the new department’s team members.

“Leadership should help onboard the new leader to the rest of the organization and those the new hire will partner with,” Fayoumi said. “Doing this early on will make a big difference.”

She also recommends setting up new team members with a mentor or peer to help answer questions, give feedback, and provide support.

“You don’t want to leave them on an island without regular feedback because you could waste a lot of time, energy, and resources if things aren’t going well,” she said. “Identifying any barriers and successes early on lets you ramp up support quickly.”

Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now.

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