Monday, February 13, 2012

What do you do when association volunteers want to manage rather than lead?

Volunteer boards sometimes cross the boundary from leadership to management.  And, that often results in organizational chaos.

This came to mind when a friend who has been the long-time President/CEO of a national organization sent this appeal:
  • “The Executive Committee feels that they have not been as engaged as they should be in the association’s business. Several changes have been made, but one change that has taken place is their involvement in the hiring, firing and disciplinary action of employees.They now want to be involved in those decisions. Since the beginning of the organization, we have had a written policy regarding HR issues that are part of the President’s job responsibilities as:
  • Hiring, firing, and disciplinary action of staff with the exception of position of President are the responsibility of the President. All personnel decisions regarding the President are the responsibility of the Executive Committee.
  • I would like to know if it is typical for the Executive Committee or Board to be involved in Human Resources issues.” 

I responded with two recommendations:

  1. Bring in an outside consultant (such as Glenn Tecker, Bob Harris or Harrison Coerver) to work with the volunteers and help create on updated expectation of roles and responsibilities of the board and of the management staff.
  2. Start looking for new opportunities just in case the situation deteriorates (as I’ve often seen happen).

So, based on this brief background, what would you recommend to my CEO friend?

I’m especially interested in comments from current or former CEOs of larger, national associations.


  1. If at all possible, can your CEO friend have a direct conversation regarding what the EC hopes to gain by being involved in the hiring, terminating, and review process--a conversation that goes deeper than believing they need to be more engaged in the business of the association.

    Are they concerned about the amount of recent turnover? Do they believe that they aren't in the loop when it comes to having the CEO communicate business information to them in a timely manner?

    Having a better read on what the EC wants to accomplish by becoming more involved in the management of the organization may help everyone determine how that can best be accomplished and create mutually agreed upon expectations given the culture of the association.

    1. When I was in a YMCA setting, the Board's Personnel Cmte got an up/down vote on whomever the CEO recommended for mgt level positions, but no involvement in the selection up to that point. This was mainly to protect the organization from obvious liabilities an employee's behavior or incompetence might bring. Since the Board was more competency-based than purely constituency-based, it seemed to work well and provided an extra vetting without the Board getting into the mechanics of the process.

  2. Thanks Natasha. I'll forward your suggestions on to the CEO.