If you’ve been reading my blog over the
last week, I’ve been presenting a series of realities that the CCA
board of directors must deal with in finding a new organizational
president. Today’s blog continues my list with the third of six
realities I’ll be sharing:
Reality 3: Historically, associations have gotten poor
grades for hiring, directing, managing, evaluating, and disciplining
the chief staff executive.
Why is this? First, because they generally don’t have a clear vision
of the role and function of the chief exec. The initial new hire
consideration is usually expressed as, "We don’t want one like the last
Second, they picture the role of the exec as singularly occupied
either lobbying; or membership-related activities for growth or
services; or public relations to enhance the image of the membership;
or fund-raising; or something else without realizing that all of these
functions are essential in the life of a flourishing organization. This
mental picture of the exec’s role is carried into the search process
and dominates the selection.
For some strange reason, there is a general feeling that anybody can
run an association. It is not unusual, as a matter of fact,
particularly for professional associations, to hire "one of their own,"
someone who comes from the field or profession represented. A great
architect will make a great exec for an architectural association is
the thought. Sometimes that’s true; more often it’s not. Trade
associations, too, are not immune to this practice.
I’m reminded of the recent gubernatorial race in Texas where one
candidate ran on a platform stating, "It can’t be that difficult!" He
When the position is advertised, the association can expect to
receive hundreds of resumÃ¨s. When I was selected thirty years ago in
1976 to be chief staff exec for the Association of Independent Colleges
and Schools, the predecessor organization to CCA, there were over 600
resumÃ¨s submitted. The career college sector of higher education is
better known now, and CCA has become the education association in
Washington. There will probably be more applications than were
As in the past, people represented in the resumÃ¨s will have a wide
variety of backgrounds and work experience, applying for consideration.
They will include experienced association executives, lobbyists,
retired bureaucrats, admirals, and generals, as well as various and
sundry higher education professors and administrators. The search,
coming as it does at the time of mid-term elections, will probably
spark the interest of members of Congress who are either retired or
defeated by the voters. The position is one of the best in Washington,
making it a coveted opportunity.
Taking time to consider the current environment is critical in
selecting the right finalist. Times change; challenges change. Things
may very well be different today than when the current exec was hired.
That needs to be studied. The board needs to be prepared to respond to
questions from the candidates. When I was in my final interview with
the board, after they had exhausted all of their questions, they asked
if I had any questions for them. Those present will remember that I
asked, "What do you, as an association, want to be when you grow up?"
Any member of that board will also remember their surprise by the
question and the difficulty they had coming up with an answer.
That wasn’t a "flip" question. I really wanted to know what the
board considered the critical goals and objectives. How will the person
know when he/she hits a home run? Any candidate worth his/her salt will
need to access the answer to that question in order to evaluate his/her
personal potential to succeed.
The answer should become a part of the evaluation process to gauge
how well the new hire does in accomplishing the desired tasks. A
formal, annual evaluation process is essential and generally missing in
the management of too many association execs. When boards do not
clearly indicate what their goals are, how can they evaluate the exec
on whether or not they have been reached?
All management texts will caution administrators to ensure that the
chain of command, lines of communication, and distribution of authority
have been clearly spelled out. Each employee should report to one
person only. This was never truer than in an association management
setting. The exec cannot report to the entire board. He/she can only
report to one person: the chair, who is responsible to the board, as a
group. It is the chair who enunciates the views of the board.
Similarly, members of the board cannot "supervise or direct" members
of the staff without exposing the organization to operational
complications. Staff must be directed by a chain of command that begins
with the President, not the board.
The board has to decide whether they want a Chief Executive Officer
or Chief Operating Officer and recognize the differences that each
title commands. A CEO is in charge; a COO is a manager. The difference
The role, as well as the title, for the chief staff person in an
association has evolved over time. There was a point, early-on, when
that appointed position was called Executive Secretary, and then came
Executive Director, followed by Executive Vice President, and now
President is the norm, with President/CEO following closely.
As the titles changed, the role changed, becoming more responsible
for projecting the future and the paths to "get there" for
consideration by the board, as well as the day-to-day activities of the
organization. The new titles gave the exec more respect and
expectations increased. The CCA board should determine if now is the
time to take the next step with the selection of the President/CEO