HR clinic: Sweeping the boardroom clean

Can a member of the management team who has just been made chief executive hand-pick a new team?

It's very common in the commercial world for a new chief executive to want to sweep the board clean. That's often because the organisation has brought the new leader in to secure improvements and he or she needs support to take it in a new direction. That support may not be as forthcoming from people who are associated with past failures, who may feel bruised at not being promoted themselves or who are not committed to new initiatives.

It's not always as simple as that in the charity sector. Because most organisations are small, chief executives often move on to face challenges elsewhere, leaving a successful staff team behind them. It would be folly in such circumstances to seek to introduce change for change's sake.

But it could be that the new boss has been appointed specifically because he or she has been charged with bringing in change. Even then it's unusual, and usually unnecessary, to change the rest of the team. Charity managers are nothing if not flexible and will adapt in most circumstances.

But to answer the question directly: yes they can, but at a price. They must never forget that senior managers are employees and have employee rights.

The first thing that he or she should do is explain his or her new needs and suggest that it's time for some of the key people to move on. Those managers may want to demonstrate that they can change to meet the new bill, but if this isn't convincing it would be better all round if a mutually acceptable solution were to be found.

Long-serving senior managers will have made an enormous contribution to the charity in the past. Paying them off with minimum redundancy benefits, not managing their exit in a dignified way or failing to acknowledge their value will destabilise the organisation, create discontent and, in all likelihood, blow the chief executive off course.

It's far better to be generous, secure departures on mutually agreed terms underpinned by legally binding agreements and rebuild in the desired new image. Go the other way and the chances are that the departing managers' disappointment will rapidly translate into trustee concern, and the new chief executive could be following his erstwhile colleagues out of the door sooner than he expected.

- John Burnell is director of Personnel Solutions

- Send your HR questions to personnelsolutions@btopenworld.com.

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