I’m a new CEO — how can I avoid criticizing my predecessor?

A reader writes:

I joined an established nonprofit as CEO about 18 months ago. The former director was accomplished in many areas, giving the agency the appearance of success and stability (programs successful, but not so fiscally). After starting, I learned that the agency was not engaged in fundraising, and its methods for raising income were no longer viable. I also learned the finance staff were only marginally knowledgeable about nonprofit finances, and the board was only marginally knowledgeable about the state of the agency’s financial affairs. Very little infrastructure was in place for an agency with almost a $2M budget.

Long story short, I am in the process of rebuilding our board of directors and our finance team while starting a fundraising program from scratch. The transition year while I have been learning how deep the problems are has been particularly awful. We are now in the process of turning around this huge ship, but it is not easy.

We have a truly great team. They are aware that we are in a financial bind right now and morale is low. Most of our employees are committed to our mission and are working to help us pull through. However, they are having a hard time reconciling how rosy things looked two years ago with where we are right now. How can I frame our situation without throwing the former management and board under the bus?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Performance evaluation left on the office printer
  • Mediocre employee wants me to accommodate her school schedule
  • I’m worried I’ll lose my new job offer during salary verification
  • Can being a podcast guest go in my job application materials?

{ 69 comments… read them below }

  1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Having stepped into tangled messes on the financial side of things time and time again, my goal is always to give everyone before me the benefit of the doubt when speaking about things I uncover. Even if I know it’s glaring and I am making judgements in the back of my head, I say “Oh dear, looks like we’ve been doing X this way, it’s costing us Y doing it that way. If we do it Z way, it will avoid that additional cost.”

    It’s all about identifying issues and addressing them as if it just wasn’t unearthed before, lots of things go unnoticed by tired or complacent eyes. Or simply untrained eyes as well. Many people only know what they’re taught or in the case of the board, what they’re shown. They don’t know exactly what they should be asking for, so they rely on thinking the other person sharing the inform them of what they assume they need to know.

    I can’t preach transparency enough and I don’t even come from the non-profit world. It helps people trust new leadership to give them the background to your changes and they don’t need to hear “The old CEO was a dimwit! They weren’t doing things properly. Now I’m here to fix their mistakes!!” you say “Looking at what we’ve been doing for the last few years, I think it’s time to inject new fundraising and reevaluate the budgets. This will make us take care of our mission better.” You don’t have to rain on their parades with their former perceptions being lies or something, they don’t need to even know that they were walking on ruins before. There’s no need to go back in time and repaint their historical views. It’s about the future now and your vision and your leadership, not the old stuff. They probably won’t remember the old CEO after awhile, to be honest.

    1. Smithy*

      Speaking from the nonprofit staff side of this – and versions of this may apply across other types of businesses – this type of transparency is particularly helpful with nonprofits as this may strongly impact opportunities for raises, even COL, and promotions. Building a fundraising program as well as a financial team comes mostly if not all from unrestricted funds. Therefore investment in those areas means there may be less or no money available for growth or opportunities for other staff.

      Certainly this doesn’t need to be done in a manner to badmouth previous leadership, however giving a message that explains why it’s important to have a fundraising team and what benefits it will bring to the entire organization may proceed statements like “therefore we need to make cuts or slow growth in these areas”. For lots of staff this helps put in context the reality of what the organization is going through and then assess whether or not their own personal goals are still being met.

    2. Rachel in NYC*

      My supervisor and I refer to a time period in our department’s history as the Wild West. Things happened and we never quit know what their logic was or even how they did them but they happened. Whenever we have to untangle stuff from that period makes me both want to drink and write SOPs. (We now have a lot of SOPs and policies that involve clear notes about what and why you do things.)

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I love this comparison. Mostly because one of my go-to sayings when I tell people we “can’t do that” and they say “we used to…” is “This isn’t the Wild West anymore, we have rules now!” [It scratches my itch to be a history nerd and the fact that I’m obsessed with the actual Wild West time period, lol.]

        But seriously, it’s a good way to put it in a lot of ways.

        I always just say “This is just active evolution of our technologies and practices.” as I shake a fax from 2002 at someone with that damn 2002 font-face of faxes that gives me flashbacks.

        1. Polyhymnia O'Keefe*

          I work for an arts non-profit, and a few years ago, we had to make some significant changes to the way we held one of our big performances, due to changes by the venue and external policies. From the moment that changed, I was very deliberate about using language like “We would previously…” as opposed to “We usually…” because the old “usual” was not coming back. This wasn’t a one-off abberation that we would get back to the status quo next time. Too many people in leadership used the “usually” language, which wasn’t helpful.

          Not everyone followed my lead, but being in a position of leadership, it helped to bring people along by framing it deliberately. “We used to… and now we…”

    3. Me*

      Universally true and excellently stated

      “lots of things go unnoticed by tired or complacent eyes. Or simply untrained eyes as well. Many people only know what they’re taught or in the case of the board, what they’re shown. They don’t know exactly what they should be asking for, so they rely on thinking the other person sharing the inform them of what they assume they need to know.”

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I have to be honest, me until rather recently to figure this out myself. I was a hardass who expected way too much from people until I saw disaster unfold personally, instead of just seeing the “aftermath” side.

  2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    My org went through something like this a year ago.

    I think it’s important to actually be truthful and pretty frank. Not to constantly harp on the past, but not to sugarcoat it either.

    Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, but be firm about the negative practices in the past. Not the people – don’t say the old CEO was bad. But stuff like “We’re going to rapidly need much better financial accountability and reporting than what was in place a year ago – that old way of working was not sustainable and is not acceptable in the long-run. It’ll take time for us to get there, but that has to change, and that’s a big part of what we have to work on now.”

  3. AthenaC*

    Did we ever get an update on OP#1?

    Being aware of good financial, accounting, and governance practices while existing in the not-for-profit world is often a heavy burden to bear, and I hope OP#1 was able to finagle a good ending to the story.

  4. Dust Bunny*

    1) You just . . . don’t. Accept that things were functioning in a different time and place and move on.

    The Former Director of my department was a lovely, personable, woman who built the department from the ground up, starting in the early 1970s when our discipline was still very much in the developmental stages. She did a lot of great work over the years, but things gradually slipped and by the time she retired, we had some very, very, outdated practices in place. One database was so outdated it couldn’t be migrated to new software and now exists–I am not kidding–as .pdfs of screenshots. Yes, she was warned repeatedly by our web person that this needed to be addressed.

    When Current Director took over, he looked around, sighed deeply, and cleaned house. And we all new what he was thinking, but there was no point in being critical–we just quietly jettisoned a lot of busywork, undid a few major projects that were built on now-very wrong ideas, and retrained in a lot of new procedures. There was a lot of, “We’ve updated our policies and now we do XYZ thing,” or, “Standards for this have changed a lot and for various reasons we need to do EFG thing now,” for a long time, without mentioning that what we’d been doing before was an inexplicable waste of time and energy.

    1. Turquoisecow*

      Wow and I thought my place was outdated for having their database built in Access 97.

      1. Fikly*

        I was working at a fairly large hospital three years ago whose EMR system was from 1995. It was not good, but no one was willing to go through the pain of changing it, even though it was causing so many problems and delays.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          We’ve slowly started converting to a newer system, but it’s been like pulling teeth. Lots of people who’ve worked here 30-35 years and don’t want to change their processes.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        This was a specialized program so I think migrating it was maybe harder than it would have been for some other things, but . . . it still didn’t happen. And it should have.

        Readable .pdfs salvaged it, but it was frustrating.

    2. LGC*

      One database was so outdated it couldn’t be migrated to new software and now exists–I am not kidding–as .pdfs of screenshots. Yes, she was warned repeatedly by our web person that this needed to be addressed.


      But also, I think your situation sounds different from LW1’s. In the letter, it sounds like her organization was visibly troubled, and it sounds like she was trying to keep people from panicking. In your case, it sounds like your department just had really inefficient processes. (Although the “database that was so old it had to be converted to PDFs of screenshots” thing is…somewhat awe-inspiring.)

      1. Dust Bunny*

        My department wasn’t in trouble because our larger institution had no idea how outdated and inefficient we were. We had no budget because our director had created the impression we didn’t need any money, because she never updated anything. We work with photographs and negatives routinely and were taking them to an outside shop to scan because she couldn’t face purchasing a scanner that could do transparencies.

        So basically she retired before anyone found out how badly off we were, and the new guy had to hit the ground running.

        It wasn’t malicious. She just got in over her head over time, and we were doing well enough to keep people happy when they didn’t now how much better we should have been.

        1. LGC*

          (I’m still trying to grok the PDF screenshot database because the fact that her data management was that outdated is giving me hives. So I apologize if I come off a bit incoherent.)

          …yeah, it sounds pretty close. I guess what I meant to say was that it didn’t sound like the fixes were quite as urgent and fundamental in your situation at first, but now that you’ve described it better…yeah, definitely very similar. But it also read like your team was a bit more aware of the issues to begin with.

    3. CM*

      Yes, what Dust Bunny said exactly.

      Transparency is key, but you don’t have to evaluate what went before you and say, “Your previous leadership really dropped the ball on this one, so now we have to fix it.” Start from where you are today. “The situation is that we have a large deficit, and in order to fix it we will need to cut costs and increase fundraising.”

      If it helps you reframe this for yourself, focus on the strengths of the previous leadership and all the ways in which they left the organization in a good position. Now you’re here to help out in the areas that were overlooked before.

  5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #3 I hope she held firm. You don’t schedule something and then demand that your work schedule change. You ask if it’s possible before you schedule it, especially if you work a job that requires specific shift coverage.

    1. Just stoppin' by to chat*

      Agreed. That’s a great point. Did Jane approach the OP and ask if it would be okay for them to shift their schedule to accommodate their goal to go back to school? Or did it and then assumed it would work out? Sounds like the latter, which is not a good approach.

    2. I'm just here for the cats*

      She should have talked with boss and asked, especially since they have rigid schedules. However, I will give her the benefit of the doubt and say she saw others in the company having flexibilty and thought it would be ok. Depending on the schools rules, and when classes start, she should be able to change her schedule. She might not get the same exact classes but she should be able to change a bit. Unless it’s something like evening classes start at 5 and she works until 6 and there are no other classes. Then she REALLY should have checked about schedules first.

  6. Junior Assistant Peon*

    Be careful not to err too far on the side of not criticizing your predecessor, or people are going to think things were great until you came and now the whole place is miserable.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      If that’s how people feel, they should go ahead and leave. We had turnover with leadership every time and in the end, nobody missed those folks either. They were poorly trained and held little actual worth in the end. Everyone is replaceable. If you’re miserable now, that sucks, I wish you the best in your future endeavors.

      As new senior leadership, you don’t want everyone running away or massive overhaul [most of the time] but it’s something we all know will happen and are prepared for it.

      1. Ali G*

        Yeah, IME the people that typically are unhappy when changes are made for the better are the ones that you’d be OK losing.

        1. James*

          I would put it more generously (and more generally): Those who are willing to walk away due to new systems are unlikely to be those that thrive in the new systems. Maybe they were good under the old systems, but for whatever reason they don’t transition well. I’ve seen it happen where good people simply couldn’t handle the new systems/new ways of doing things and left.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            This is very true.

            This goes along with what my general philosophy in business is. Nobody is a bad person for not being the right fit for a job.

            These finance people that the OP speaks of, they’re probably not awful humans. They probably are in over their heads without the necessary background, experience or evolved skill set.

            But I’ve seen people try to make a frigging AP clerk into a full cycle bookkeeper for a multi-million dollar organization, with literally only the background of processing payables for a billion dollar corp. Then they’re like “Y U NO GOOD AT THIS?” because bro, they got no training and were thrown into tank of sharks and told to swim fast. Some of them only dealt with very specific vendors, were told very specifically where things were coded, etc. They never had to make an independent judgement in their life but you suck at hiring and didn’t flush that issue out! Just “oh I see you’ve done some accounting, good enough, you’re hired, Karen!”

            And if someone comes in and you’ve been doing it X all this time and they’re like “You’re doing this wrong.” it’s sometimes humiliating, which can manifest in frustration and that “Fine, I’ll just leave. This sucks now! The old CEO said I was doing fine!!!!!”

            And seriously, some people just hate change. There’s always that office gossip, that office “inner circle” and when things switch dynamics, suddenly it’s all about jumping ship and going to start new somewhere else. Instead of seeing your “world” change around you and you having little to no power to fix that.

            Such is life. Not necessarily a bad person in sight!

            1. James*

              “…because bro, they got no training and were thrown into tank of sharks and told to swim fast.”

              The company I work for had a HIGH turnover rate for new people and tried to figure out why. Those of us who were experienced enough to be heard, but new enough that the scars hadn’t healed yet, pointed out that the company’s training is pretty much what you just described. “You went to school, you should know how to do this!” was the mentality. The people that survive are top notch, sure–but you end up relying a LOT on individuals and having crap systems, which is extremely fragile.

              But getting back to the point: You can even have people part on good terms. I’ve seen people leave because they knew the company was going in a direction, under the new CEO, that they didn’t like. I did like it, so I stuck around. Neither option is inherently bad, we just wanted different things. Those who left wanted more field work, where as I was looking to be more oversight/management. They’re happier in their new jobs, and I’m happy not being knee deep in toxic waste most days. :D

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        100%. At my last company they brought in a new CIO to “clean house”. Once he screwed everything up, he left and all of his cronies followed shortly thereafter. They were not missed AT ALL.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Good point. If OP1 were writing now, I’d suggest OP1 try the phrase “industry best practices have changed, and we’ll be more sustainable by adapting new techniques.”
      This points to the world, not to former management.

      1. nonegiven*

        One time my son said, “I have to talk to Fergus about best practices and industry standards without using the words ‘best practices’ and ‘industry standards.’ [Coworker] won’t even talk to the guy because he’s afraid he’ll get frustrated and say something that will get him fired.”

        Apparently Fergus was one of those, “we’ve been doing it this way for 15 years so there is no reason to change” guys and he had seniority even though my son was put on the project to help implement best practices and industry standards.

  7. WellRed*

    I’d love updates on all of these, but especially want to know if, pre-COVID at least, the nonprofit turned around.

  8. Submerged Tenths*

    Perhaps a mental reframe? Instead of “throwing previous boss under the bus” it should be “allowing previous boss to take their rightful place in organizational history”

    1. The Beignet Incident*

      “allowing previous boss to take their rightful place in organizational history”

      What beautiful phrasing :)

  9. Laney Delaney*

    #4 Raise versus Retention Bonsus. Aren’t bonuses taxed differently? If previous employer had given you a retention bonus, wouldn’t it have been a lump sum payment, rather than a slight increase in every paycheck for the rest of the year?

    1. Emily S*

      They’re taxed as W2 income the same as your regular pay, although it sometimes feels like you’re being taxed more on it when you get it as a lump sum. For whatever reason, maybe payroll software defaults or limitations, the withholding on the check that includes your bonus is usually calculated based on an underlying assumption that you make that much every paycheck. So for most people, getting a check twice as big as their usual one would mean they were in a much higher tax bracket if they got that much every paycheck, and as a result a larger percentage is withheld. You get it back the following year when you do your taxes and your total income does not in fact turn out to be twice what it was the year before.

      Like you I have never heard of a bonus being spread out across the year like that – I’ve always seen it done as a lump sum.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        I had a friend whose one-month very large addition to his paycheck (not a bonus, IIRC correcting a long outstanding underpayment) *did* get taxed as if he’d be making that much every month, so it’s worth checking. Nothing he could do about it, he just got a very large refund that year.

        1. nonegiven*

          You can always change your withholding to take out less in tax for the rest of the year, you just need to remember to change it back in January.

  10. Leslie Knope*

    For #1 – I’ve been both staff and ED in this situation. Staff when the previous director left a mess, and when they left a strong thriving organization. Incoming CEOs who trash the org (which you are trashing the people IN THE ROOM with you when you trash past leaders, because those people built the organization with or sometimes despite that person) are short lived and not very effective. CEOs who recognize where the org is at, and what can be done better – improved finance, fundraising – get better buy in and results.

    I’ve come into a hot mess as ED, and I’ve left an organization with some issues too. I was hired to balance the last ED, so for me –
    Programs and Operations. The ED who came after me is a dynamite fundraiser. The next challenge for the organization is fundraising- boards typically hire in leaders who fill gaps in the previous leader.

    You will leave someday.

    How do you want the incoming ED to talk about you? If you model trashing the Board (your boss) and the former ED, don’t be shocked or hurt when the staff trash you.

  11. Treebeardette*

    #3, I advocated for my coworker to be able to get off early for her school work. My boss pushed back but I explained how I would cover. I thought it was very bizarre that a boss would push back on such a thing for one semester. It wasn’t even an every day thing either. Education is important, especially for working women when opportunities are limited. I would hope businesses support it more.

    I’m not sure it’s fair to let others have accommodations but not her simply because she had a phone job. Would that mean anyone else with a phone job could never go to school? Or those with ideal schedules could go but not others? You say she’s mediocre. I’m wondering if that’s because of the system you have set up. I work shift work and have covered all 3 shifts in my career. People do better on some vs others. Education can also help her not to be so mediocre. However, I’m confused why you haven’t addressed her work problems and would rather use her educational opportunity as a punishment. Based on the info I have, it sounds like you’re not managing very well.

    My department emphasizes cross training to help cover for these reasons. They’re are many options to help someone get coverage so they can go to school. She should be able to show to her class schedule.

    1. Fikly*

      I don’t think you understood the letter.

      Some jobs are coverage based. Some are not. This person has a coverage based job, while the people whose schedules were changed for school did not have coverage based jobs.

      The other shifts did not have any openings, so she couldn’t have switched into a different shift that fit her school schedule. This was presumably all information she could have found out before committing to a school so far away with classes that did not fit her existing work schedule. There are other options for school – she choose to commit to a school without first checking if it worked with her job schedule. It’s like booking non-refundable tickets without checking if you can get the days off, and then being outraged if it’s not possible. It’s entirely unreasonable.

      She’s not being refused accommodations simply because she has a coverage based job. She’s being refused accommodations because the accommodations she wants are not reasonable. Not being granted accommodations – something extra – is not punishment.

      1. Treebeardette*

        I understood it just fine since, as I’ve stated, I work shift work. Just because you disagree doesn’t mean I don’t get it.

        This really isn’t about shift work, it’s more about the employee being mediocre. If she made plans and didn’t include the company, then her manager needs to address that. The manager isn’t though. The manager just wants to say no without addressing these problems. We don’t know how unreasonable it truly is.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I think it’s pretty clear how unreasonable it is:
          They give the shift choices based on seniority. She does not have the seniority.
          There is no open slot in the shift she wants anyway.
          They cannot move her without an open slot because of coverage.

          In other words, in order to accomodate her request she’d get to jump the line of 3 more senior people just because she asked to; she’d also get to displace someone from her desired shift into her current one, just because she asked to.

          It’s not just “because she’s mediocre”, but rather than on top of the above unreasonableness, it’d probably be terrible for the morale of the 4 coworkers who’d be screwed over by her accomodation. Her mediocrity at the job adds insult. Those four people not only actually have the qualifications the company normally require for requesting a shift change, but are also way better at their jobs. So they do better work and follow the rules, but she decides to sign up for a far away school, and classes that conflict with her existing job, so poof, she gets to jump the line? Good way to lose your top performers.

        2. JSPA*

          Not sure why you’re posing this as hypothetical.

          The letter states that the worker made plans–including picking a school location and schedule that required a shift change–before speaking to her boss about the possibility of a shift change. Furthermore, she created a situation where she would “have” to switch to a more desirable shift (And, one that she would otherwise not qualify for.)

          She then presented this problem, of her own making, as “a” problem that the boss should solve.

          If that’s not intentionally manipulative, it’s very actively and directedly negligent, at best.

          In my youth, I once knowingly set up a conflict that pitted “a really good thing you should agree is good” against something required but boring. I just expected everyone to go along with that new reality, and exempt me from the boring required task. Getting past the sort of magical thinking (“synchronicity = this is what the universe is telling me I should do!”) is a big part of becoming a functional adult. You don’t need business school to learn, either. A good boss, who will call you on it, will do nicely.

    2. doreen*

      There’s coverage and there’s coverage – I work the same hours as the people who cover for me when I’m out, so coverage doesn’t involve working different hours or days. They just do certain parts of my jobs ( the parts that can’t wait a day or a week ) when I’m not there. In other jobs, people work different shifts to cover a function – say the reception desk at the emergency room, which must have someone there 24/7. If I work M-F midnight to 8am and I want to take a class Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8am and need to leave at 7am , how does my manager get someone to cover for me? Having the 8 am person come in an hour early will probably involve overtime, and changing me to the 4-midnight shift will cause problems with people who have more seniority and should have gotten the shift before me.
      I mean if you’d be willing to trade shifts so a coworker could go to school that’s great – but there’s not going to be someone willing to do that in every situation. And not every coverage situation allows for trading single shifts.

      1. Treebeardette*

        If this is a situation where having someone off causes absolutely no coverage, that’s poor management and would mean resources are stretched thin already. What would people do if they were sick or needed vacation? In any case, these are all theories and doesn’t really address the issue at hand. The manager doesn’t want to make accommodations for someone because she’s mediocre while making accommodations for others. If another shifter did this, would coverage be provided?

        1. AcademiaNut*

          There’s a difference between an occasional issue (like illness or vacation) and someone asking to change shifts permanently, or only work part of their scheduled shift every day. If a workplace has no way to handle people calling out sick, I agree that’s bad management.

          However, to accommodate the employee’s schedule the OP would have to demote one employee to a less desirable shift and jump Jane ahead of three more senior and higher performing coworkers. That’s four employees who are going to be rightly annoyed at the situation, one of whose life is going to be seriously disrupted. That’s a lot of disruption and ill will created for an employee who isn’t a particularly high performer, and who is demanding an accommodation, rather than checking first.

          1. Emily S*

            Exactly. It could be that the shifts have enough extra coverage to handle someone being out sick or on vacation, but not enough to handle two people being out at once – meaning if you reduced the shift by one person, you would no longer be able to cover for illness and vacation. Saying, “I can’t run the shift with less than X number of people,” doesn’t mean that the shift is understaffed or doesn’t have cross-coverage. It means that the shift needs X people to not be understaffed and to have cross-coverage.

        2. Cleopatra, Queen of Denial*

          “that’s poor management and would mean resources are stretched thin already.”

          No, that’s not necessarily the case. Have you ever done call center scheduling, or did you just work in a call center?

          If the call volume only supports X number of calls before 9 AM, and only two workers are needed to handle that volume, you don’t schedule a third just in case. That’s incredibly inefficient. If someone’s sick, the other person just deals with it until everyone else comes in at 9.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You were kind to offer to cover and help accommodate your coworker.

      However in most cases, there’s not someone who will take the hit like you did. Most people don’t want to step into someone else’s job for 1.5hours a day to cover for them, on a daily basis so that they can pursue their education. I sure wouldn’t, I have enough work and don’t have the luxury of shifting things around to take on that extra task.

      We’re not stretched thin either, we have plenty of room to breathe but not enough to seriously shift entire schedules around like that to accommodate someone’s personal schedule.

      Educational opportunity makes it sound like there’s no other options, this is once in a lifetime kind of setup. It’s not. There are other options. There are other schools. She can figure something else out that works with her current schedule or she can find another job that better fits the schedule.

      We cross train so people who take vacations, get sick or simply quit or get abducted by aliens overnight can be replaced for a short period of time. Then if they were abducted or quit, we’d replace them. We wouldn’t just let that fall on someone else’s plate for a long period of time. Degrees take years to accomplish.

      And education is optional in the end. It doesn’t disadvantage people, let’s stop kidding ourselves about that. Tons of us don’t have degrees and are fine. And another ton of people have degrees that aren’t being utilized. Again, it’s something they can’t accommodate, so they should just confirm that it’s not possible and Jane needs to accept it and figure out what she wants to do from there.

  12. Anne of Green Gables*

    I disagree with the podcast answer, since it sounds like it was on a topic related to the field. I’d put it in the same category as conference presentations on a resume. Could be different for a CV.

  13. Forrest*

    My directorate is getting a new director in two months and frankly if he doesn’t criticise the old one I will think less of him. I wonder whether there’s anyone in OP1‘s organisation who did know how bad things were and is thrilled to see them realise too?

  14. Emily S*

    Re: Question #5. I regularly present and appear on panels as an invited speaker at conferences in my field, and like the LW I also did a podcast interview as a guest expert.

    The last few times I’ve sent out a resume, I include as a third page, “Invited Speaker Engagements” listing the session title, name of the conference, and year of the conference for each time I’ve spoken. I should note that the second page of my resume is only about half a page long – the reason I put my speaking appearances on a third page is because I’m thinking of it more like a “supplementary information”/appendix to my resume, not because I don’t have room on the second page. Does that seem like overkill, and should I just mention in my cover letter that I’m invited to speak at a few events every year without listing them all out anywhere?

    One of the reasons I like being able to supply the list is that I’m in nonprofit marketing but have presented at both nonprofit conferences and general marketing conferences where nonprofits probably make up 5% of the attendees, so I feel that showing I’m sought out as an expert not only in the nonprofit world but by marketers in general is a testament to the caliber of work I’m doing, which is unusually sophisticated for most nonprofits (because most nonprofits aren’t very large orgs with big budgets and a high degree of role specialization). But maybe it’s coming across as overly self-important to list out these presentations?

    1. foolofgrace*

      I’m not in HR nor am I a hiring manager, but given that you’ve got a whole list of your previous speaking engagements, I think it’s worthwhile to list them. I wouldn’t do a third page, though; something about going over that nebulous two-page limit might discourage people. I bet you could set it off somehow on the second page of your resume. But again, I’m not a hiring manager, so this is just my two cents’ worth…

    2. LizM*

      I have a federal resume, so most in the private sector would feel it was ridiculously long, so take this with a grain of salt, but I have a section on my resume of panel presentations and trainings that I’ve taught. I would probably put a podcast interview in that, assuming it was a reputable podcast that was either recognized in my field, had a sizable number of listeners, or was produced by a recognized podcast network.

    3. Senor Montoya*

      I have a complete list of publications and presentations. But for my resume, I have a section called “selected presentations and publication” — I have recent ones and then pertinent older ones. Then at the end of the section, a statement that “A complete list is available upon request.” LOL nobody has ever requested it!

      Are the presentations on different topics or at different kinds of events? If you speak every year on Llamas Painting Teapots at the National Animal Arts Conference, you could that on your actual resume as a single item, noting that it’s an annual presentation, then give dates such as 2006 thru present.

  15. Old Med Tech*

    #2: I feel for you. I worked for the majority of my career at a hospital and then taught at a community college. The community college had terrible administration, but I loved my co-workers and students. One day another faculty member came running in my office. She needed her W4 and could not find it on-line. The person she asked for help told her to find it yourself (remember bad administration). She put W4 in the search box in the college website and up popped my personnel file with my SS number. I called HR and told them to get this down now. HR said IT would do it. It took 24 hours. It was put in the wrong place by mistake (remember poor administration and poor IT). Fortunately no identity theft happened.

  16. foolofgrace*

    About the podcast: I agree that hiring managers or HR folks aren’t going to listen to a recording of the podcast. But something Alison said, about they would be more likely to scan thru a printed copy, made me think that if you transcribed the podcast, wrote it up and put it up on your web page (or somewhere online) and linked to it, you might get the benefit from it. Is transcribing a podcast a big drag? You bet! But how much do you want the next great job? You could type for 1o minutes a day and eventually you’d have the whole thing. It doesn’t have to be an insurmountable task.

    I had a webpage with a bunch of my writing samples. People looked at it — I’m sure they only scanned the various categories, they didn’t read everything — but it got me interviews.

    1. SatsumaWolf*

      Transcripts are also good from an accessibility point of view – people who have hearing disabilities, who have playback issues, who prefer to read, would all then have access to your content.

  17. LizM*

    A few years ago, I took over managing a small regional office of a government agency. My predecessor had a lot of strengths, and was well liked by the staff. Senior leadership in my agency, however, had several longstanding frustrations with him. As I dug into it, the fact that he didn’t take these on was part of why he was well liked, but it wasn’t a sustainable situation (hence, the changes leadership wanted him to make).

    My mantra with myself and the staff was that I look at things differently, but different doesn’t imply a value judgment about the way things were done before. I tried not to frame it as “Chuck spent all his time going to conferences and didn’t do his job and his bosses were frustrated” but “I know Chuck’s focus was on external outreach, but I want to spend the next few months focusing on how we can strengthen internal processes and line them up with our national priorities. That may mean we need to back off some of the workload around XYZ.”

    I think some employees did read between the lines with what was prompting some of the changes, and I did have some employees leave because they felt the office wasn’t as “fun” anymore, but overall, I think people appreciated the candidness about the fact we were changing how we did business, and acknowledging that it was a change for the whole office.

    1. Wintermute*

      I like this, and I agree entirely. Especially if it is a matter of ‘we really can’t not do this’ (and fundraising “no longer being viable” really is that sort of situation!) then you owe it to your staff to be transparent.

      First, because they deserve that context before they decide how obstructionist or change-resistant they want to be (a lot of people resist change, but you’re not able to give people at lot of time to come to terms with it and get on board if it’s an existential issue). If they don’t want to change how they do things to enable fundraising and ultimately bills to be paid, you may have to let them go much faster than you’d normally want to.

      Second, because it shows them you’re not just making changes to be a ‘seagull boss” (fly in, make a lot of noise, and crap all over everything) but because this is important to the organization’s survival. They can draw their own conclusions about how things got to that point if they want, ultimately it’s not important, but knowing the situation gives them context for your actions.

      1. allathian*

        Seagull boss… Flies in, makes a lot of noise, and craps all over everything.
        I’m so stealing this! (I have a great boss and an employer I’m very happy to work for, but not all of my friends are so lucky.)

        1. Professional Seagull*

          You left off the final line! Flies in, squawks a lot, carps everywhere, and then flies away! Why yes, I am a Professional Seagull, how do you do?

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Some of the new stuff that gets implemented is NOT fun, this is true. And most certainly implementing new processes is never fun. However, sometimes the new systems can lighten everyone’s load. Or it can help the company remain in compliance with more ease.

      This is a very simple example: An NPO had regular fire safety inspections. Routinely the NPO was dinged for an emergency exit that was locked from the inside. A wise person order and had installed a new door. The new door remains locked from the outside at all times, but it can be opened by anyone from the inside at any time. No more notes on the fire safety inspection about employees’ failures to unlock the emergency door during the day. In this example, people were not happy with the inconvenience of having workers replace the door. Then they were not happy with the new system because they did not understand there was no need to unlock the door in the AM and lock it in the PM. All they held on to was the door had to be unlocked during the day. There was no longer a key to unlock it. This is a very simple example, but it took time for everyone to get on the same page and settle into the new normal.

      Fortunately, this could go under the heading of “using new technology to help us”. And the organization could avoid the conversation of, “This should have been done a long time ago! And who’s fault is that???!!” The NPO landed on, “This new door will help us to be in compliance for our fire safety inspections. No more written warnings from the inspector.”

      I have also gone with:
      Regs have changed since those times.
      We are now under higher scrutiny, they had less scrutiny back then.
      This new procedure will help us with audits/inspections, so we will get good reports.
      We (meaning current people and former staff) did not realize there was a fix for this. Now that we know, we are going to fix it/make it easier/whatever.

      Honestly, it’s pretty obvious to most people that the predecessors fell down on the job. I like the attitude of, “And so will *I*, because we all have our own unique set of abilities and talents.” Admitting that I will miss stuff, too, seems to level the playing field.

      I have also gone with, “Our predecessors did sooo much! They did x and y and z on a lot less resources that we have.” Here I have circled back to the parts they got right.

      I have noticed that the more things you tweak and modernize things, the lighter and happier others can become. They know this or that needed to be fixed and just could not get those things fixed.

  18. ieAnon*

    My department head was early last year. It’s a small thing, but my current supervisor never misses an opportunity to complain about the organizational system she left behind (truly horrendous, but I’m tired of hearing it) and has not once spelled or pronounced her name correctly. That’s not an exaggeration.

    My former supervisor gave me my start and I loved working with her, even if she wasn’t the right fit for the position. It’s deeply irritating to feel like she’s being disrespected. Remember that your new employees may feel that way about the outgoing CEO regardless of what troubles there might have been before you took the position, and be constructive about changes, rather than simply critical.

    1. Wintermute*

      I think that’s why being factual, neutral and non-judgemental is the key. “our finances are in rough shape, we can’t survive if we don’t make some changes because of X, Y and Z we’re going to have to do This, That and the Other Thing” leaves any judgement about the skill or choices of the predecessor totally out it. It just gives them the facts and lets them draw their own conclusions if they care to.

      It would take a pretty warped way of thinking to say “well if the old boss’ way of doing things will put us out of business we owe it to him to go quietly into the night out of respect”.

  19. Some Lady*

    #3 – I hope you would add to your answer ways that you *can* accommodate/support her. Going back to school is hard. It takes a lot of persistence, and going somewhere part time can include a ton of barriers and issues to navigate that can be really challenging. An inflexible work schedule is going to be a huge barrier. That doesn’t mean it’s your barrier to fix, but it’s also something that might be really hard for her to change in other ways. So while it’s not your obligation, it would be so awesome if you helped her understand what you might be able to offer to help those barriers seem a little less intimidating–tuition reimbursement, other types of scheduling flexibility, help thinking through other options that might be work, connections to local resources for people like her, a day or two off around finals, or maybe just cheering on enthusiastically–whatever makes sense in your situation.

  20. Koala dreams*

    One thing that’s common in my country is unpaid time off for studies. For example, if the employee has classes twice a week, they get those days off to go to class and do their reading, homework, exercises… Since the employee is now only part time, you can hire another part time employee to fill those shifts. As a bonus, you now have a relationship with the new part time employee who might be willing to take on extra shifts now and then when someone is sick or the workload is higher. It wouldn’t work in all situations, of course, but sometimes it’s a better choice than the employer losing the employee entirely and the employee losing their job.

  21. Cleopatra, Queen of Denial*

    OP3: Stick to your guns and don’t let her skip over the others. I was so glad to see Allison’s advice here.

    Seniority is as valuable as money in a call center, and I’m flabbergasted that the employee would try to do this.

    To those saying that the employee should have the right to go back to school, what about the other three people?
    They might want to go back to school themselves, or pursue side interests, or anything else that makes their lives better.

    I have been in this situation — I was stuck with a 10-7 shift, and requested the 8-5 shift as soon as it came up. We hired a new guy who decided during his 8-5 training period that he wanted to join a soccer team that would require him to leave at 5:30. My boss told me to “work it out between us.”

    They were shocked when I left for a better job a month later, working at the new call center down the street. 8-5, and I was home by 5:30 every day. I’m still mad thinking about it.

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