Human Resources |
Article by Donna Davis, Stacey Freed and Leah Thayer
From the January/February Net Assets
This article is part of a series from the January/February 2017 Net Assets. See the other articles:
Long tenures and promoting from within are hallowed traditions at independent schools — with the notable exception of senior finance positions, which are often filled by second-career professionals. Expect for-profit companies, higher education and other nonprofit sectors to become even more popular launch pads as schools seek increasingly sophisticated analytical skills and specialized knowledge.
Start with some recruitment fundamentals, recommends Doug Cooney of Deerfield Associates Executive Search. Define what you want out of a hire, learn how to package and market the opportunity, have an excellent interview team on campus, engage the candidate — and sell them on the job. “The more personalized the search, the more effective.”
This is especially true for positions so new they have no precedent or career path. Gabriel Lucas recently conducted a search for a “knowledge hub manager” at a school. “Who has been that before?” asked the principal of Ed Tech Recruiting and co-founder of ATLIS (Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools). “Who has run a library, been an innovation and curriculum manager and served as a director for all things technology?” By and large, “there’s just not a deep pool” within independent schools to handle the shift to academic and curriculum design. “Quite often we have found the top candidate is not the typical rising-up-the-ranks independent school technology leader.”
Begin succession planning well in advance of a search. Cast your net wide — possibly even nationally or internationally. Define the key priorities and skill sets needed and wanted in the role going forward. Cooney said his typical independent school CFO search might involve as many as 300 calls to potential candidates and referral sources within what he calls his “Doug Club” — well-placed individuals in relevant spheres. Winnowing names to a final list of candidates might take three to four months, depending on the pace of the institution hiring, with that roster typically including one to two individuals from independent schools and the rest from higher education, other not-for-profits, financial services and consulting disciplines, he said.
Jane Armstrong, managing partner of education search firm Independent Thinking, sometimes supplements advertised searches by going through schools’ alumni databases — for instance, seeking an MBA alumnus who has been involved with the school. Your school’s audit firm might also have sources, she said.
In any case, prepare for competition. In a hypothetical search for a smart, strategic and dynamic school CFO, it’s likely that “the person they want is in much demand not only by education but by other sectors. You have to broaden your sphere to get the best talent,” Cooney said. Armstrong surmised that such talent is also ambitious and looking for advancement potential. “Tomorrow’s administrators are presenting themselves with terrific credentials,” she said, noting professional development programs from NBOA as well as NAIS, regional independent school associations and specialized offerings from the likes of Harvard and the Klingenstein Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
Could your next-gen leaders be closer to home — perhaps among existing employees, trustees or parents? “Some talent should be home-grown,” said Frank Aloise, chief financial officer at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia. “They know the culture of the school.” But while the business office might seem like an obvious training ground for a business officer, that’s not always the case, said Jeff Shields, NBOA’s president and CEO. For instance, while the controller might seem the likely choice for succession, “controllers don’t necessarily desire to be the business officer, just as the business officer doesn’t necessarily have the desire to be the head of school.”
Likewise, longtime leaders who retire and then go into consulting don’t always bring the “new thinking necessary for success in the future,” said Philip Cork, assistant headmaster for finance and assistant treasurer at St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, Florida. Rather, “our schools will thrive because we develop people from within who are eager to learn new skills and apply them.”
By Kitty Schainman, Catlin Gabel School
Our school is going to be facing the double impact of key financial officers and facilities personnel retiring in the next few years. We will be missing their collective 60-plus years of experience with our institution. While the loss of their experience and knowledge will be sorely missed, my greater concern is two-fold: the loss of solid working relationships and the dearth of skilled middle-career managers and technicians to fill the voids. Regrowing relationships and training-up novices takes an investment in time and resources. It also puts a greater burden on those who aren’t retiring.
We are moving forward proactively to glean as much insight and institutional knowledge as possible from these folks now. Annual staff reviews will now include maintaining an annual calendar of planning and tasks related to each job. Not work orders or preventive maintenance, but the seasonal planning and thought processes that have become habit over the years.
We are also attempting to get funding into our operations budget to cover the huge expenses that come when an established person is succeeded by a new employee: professional training, licensing and, most importantly, planned months of overlap with the replacement person. As a small school (750 students but 32 buildings and 60-plus acres), we rely so much on individual specialists (one HVAC, one mechanic, one electrician) because we have little redundancy. I am adamant that to ensure a successful transition and a seamless transfer of knowledge, we have to have a lengthy training and vetting period. We must make sure we have the right replacement before the veteran retires. Several times we have hired a person who became overwhelmed, disenchanted or lured away. This left us with no knowledge transfer at all and a much longer and more costly recovery time.
Wish me luck, and put out the word that there is great value in investing in the people who manage the school’s physical and financial health.
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