By Patricia St. Onge, Seven Generations Consulting and Coaching
I was pleased to be asked to share some thoughts about hiring staff in small foundations. I have served as interim director to more than a dozen organizations and foundations where I have facilitated the process of hiring new leadership. I would like to share a few tools I use when supporting the process of hiring.
The most important element of the search is to find a person who is the right fit for your foundation at its particular moment in history. I take board members and staff through a process of identifying the developmental stage at which they find themselves at their foundation. We then imagine where we want to be in the next three-to-five years and what kind of leadership we need to facilitate our growth as we imagine it. We consider both specific hard skills, such as knowledge about how to make Program Related Investments, and also personality and leadership characteristics. We use that information to write a job description.
To help ensure the best fit for a new employee, I use the medicine wheel, an indigenous model for determining complementary work styles. This provides insight into different working or leadership styles associated with each of the four directions – visionary, nurturer, warrior, or critical thinker.
Using this tool with board and staff before the search, we look for the skills and styles that would best enhance current strengths and fill gaps. At one foundation, the staff and board had a lot of strengths with three of the four work styles – nurturer, warrior, and critical thinker. The two finalist candidates were both highly qualified and could have done a wonderful job. We opted for the person who would bring more vision to the organization – and it paid off well.
Once the board is clear about the work styles they have already and what styles are needed, I work with the search team to think about the organization’s journey. We visualize the path that the foundation has traveled to get to where it is now, ready to hire someone new. Then we stop and imagine the person who is on their own journey, whose life has drawn them toward us. I often have found that when we meet the best finalist candidate, we have a sense of mutual recognition. We, and they, feel a sense that it’s just a great fit. As a happy search committee member once told me, “her yearning met our bliss.”
What tools or systems have you found helpful when hiring foundation staff?
Attending ASF 2012 National Conference next month? Pat St. Onge will be a panelist at the Hiring and Keeping Great Staff session on Tuesday, October 9. Not attending the conference? See our FAQs on foundation administration and watch for the new ASF primer, Hiring and Keeping Great Staff, coming in early 2013.
Patricia St. Onge (Haudenosaune) is the founder of Seven Generations Consulting and brings over twenty years of experience leading and working with foundations, nonprofits, and public sector agencies. She provides training, consulting, and technical assistance in the areas of community organizing, social justice advocacy, organizational development, cross-cultural effectiveness, and consensus building. She is also a spiritual and personal coach. Patricia serves as Chair of the Trustees for Common Counsel Foundation in Oakland and as a Trustee of the Board for Funders for LGBTQ Issues. She is also the very proud mother of ten (daughters and their partners) and grandmother of six.