Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q. I am chair of a medium-sized charity. Our chief executive wants to move on, but we are happy with her performance. How should I recruit a new chief executive?

A. Seize the moment to be bold with your appointment. Get the organisation what it needs and deserves to take it forward. Don't be daunted; it is not so different from other recruitment processes.

Start at the beginning. What state is the job description in? Is it based on reality? Get your chief executive to update it and seek other views.

Trustees must approve it very early in the process.

Consider how the role should be in the future. What does the future hold for the organisation, and how will this person lead it forward? Can you guide the board in some strategic long-term thinking?

Be aware that it is likely to take three months to appointment, plus a candidates' notice period. You may need to buy yourself time with an interim appointment or get more time from the existing chief executive.

Interims can be found from within the organisation, agencies or even your trustees.

What sort of person do you need? Shared vision is another critical success factor. Be wary of jumping to conclusions based on the outgoing chief's strengths and weaknesses. For instance, she may be a visionary but not strong on finance; the organisation has great internal processes but little external profile; relations with trustees may not have been positive.

Analyse what competences, experience and personal qualities are needed.

Don't pre-judge or you could miss the possibility of seeing some excellent people.

Compatibility with stakeholders needs to be explored with candidates.

Over dinner, perhaps - or, if external profile is important, take them to a networking event and watch them work the room.

Be sure to give candidates space to ask questions and have a two-way dialogue. It's amazing what people reveal. You can get indicators of their knowledge of your organisation and remit, the sector and field you operate in, the personal work issues and baggage from previous roles.

When in dialogue with the candidate, push for solid demonstration of previous impact and outcomes, not theoretical answers about how they would lead your business. Probe deep, and follow up any niggles in your mind.

Finally, ensure you personally take up references before making an offer.

Don't leave this critical element to a paper exercise in the HR function.

Whatever method you decide on, be driven by finding the right person, not by the process.

As Lewis E Pierson, former president of Irving Bank and of the US Chamber of Commerce, said: "Business is like a man rowing a boat upstream. He has no choice; he must go ahead or he will go back."

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to

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