The Hardest Question Every Executive Director Must Answer

At some level, every executive director’s job is similar to other directors in the community. Each leads the organization, raises funds, recruits, ensures clients are being served well, all while serving as the face of the agency. About the only difference between each executive director’s day-to-day activities is determining how much time to allocate to each function. An essential task for EDs is deciding whether hiring someone to take on one of those rolls makes sense.

This leads me to the one question every executive director will eventually face – and it’s a big one: 

Is it the right time to make a significant change?

Finding an answer to this question is a responsibility an executive director can neither ignore nor delegate to others. While some people  look forward to change, most abhor the process itself.

Why is Change Difficult?

Change says the current processes are not working well enough. Change says we have to do better. Change says we are not keeping up. Change says we all have to “up our game”, or else.

Just the thought of change stirs many emotions, most of them negative. It weighs heavily on people, even the top performers. Once you announce change, you can almost feel the heightened emotions in the office. It can get downright uncomfortable. People wonder, how will change really impact them? How disruptive will it be to the regular flow of work?  This is especially true when it involves significant pieces of the agency that impact many individuals.

Change can numb people into inaction. Their fear causes them to virtually shut down. As the leader, you are now juggling a lot of balls in the air at once: leading the change, communicating why it is necessary, encouraging people to give it their best and discussing the change with outsiders.  An executive director may consider postponing necessary change, but that only makes it harder and more painful when the day finally comes. Kicking the can down the road rarely makes anything easier to handle or accept.

So, how does a leader go about evaluating the need for change? There are three questions a leader must ask himself/herself when deciding whether the time has come for change.

1. What is the cost to the organization of not making the change?

  • Will there be a decrease in donations?
  • Will fewer clients receive help?
  • Is a weak board falling short in its oversight duties?
  • Could key staff and volunteers leave?
  • Will the organizations’s standing in the community drop?

2. What is the cost to others of not making the change?

  • Will clients receive less than adequate care and other assistance?
  • Could staff, volunteers, and the board lose their passion and motivation for your cause?
  • Will donors leave to find other causes to support?

3. What happens if no action is taken?

  • Will the problem go away, at least for now?
  • Will it exacerbate?
  • Could it eventually solve itself through external forces?

Making changes and “upsetting the applecart” when things are not too bad is a hard decision to make and defend. Many people believe the saying that “if isn’t broke, don’t fix it”. Nonetheless, implementing change may be exactly the right decision to make, even with the possibility of having significant repercussions.

It really comes down to your judgement call…Can you afford to maintain the status quo?

Find out if it’s time to make a change at your agency.