Interview: Martin Houghton-Brown, Missing People

He tells Tristan Donovan how he prepared for life as a chief executive

Starting a new job is always a challenge, but Martin Houghton-Brown recently made what is arguably one of the most daunting moves in the third sector: he became a chief executive.

Last month, Houghton-Brown left his post as deputy director of business development at the Children's Society and became the new leader of Missing People.

But he didn't start from scratch. While he was working out his notice, Houghton-Brown began preparing for his new post. "I wanted to go in ready to start on day one," he says.

As part of his pre-employment training regime, Houghton-Brown gathered up every relevant document from Missing People he could get his hands on, from management team minutes and accounts to floor plans and photos of Missing People's 40 employees.

"I had photos of all the staff spread all over my kitchen at home," he says. "I felt I had been surrounded by the team for months, so when I arrived I recognised the faces and knew where people sat."

He also asked each of Missing People's senior managers to carry out a Swot analysis so he could read up on each department's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

"This preparation made it much easier for me to take in all the information once I started because I wasn't hearing things for the first time," he says.

Houghton-Brown has made it his goal to meet every employee one-to-one, from the receptionist to the fundraising director. He'll also be job-shadowing staff and experiencing the charity's training course for volunteers first-hand. "I think it's terrified the training manager," he says.

"I want to know what the volunteer experience is, and I'll help man our helpline at night and on weekends because those are some of our busiest times. It's not uncommon for young people to call the helpline at 2am on a Saturday."

To encourage openness, he has been leading by example. "I had a psychometric profile done that gloriously outlined all my weaknesses, so I've shown it to the senior managers."

He is also trying to make sure that becoming a chief executive doesn't change him. "The challenge for me is still to be the same person I was throughout my career and not to feel I must change who I am."

He is also wary of getting fixated on problems: "There's almost a risk that your view ends up being about only what needs fixing, but it's important to see where an organisation's strengths lie. It's important to affirm what the strengths are and what staff are doing right."

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