Boards of directors have one, and only one, position they are responsible for hiring: the chief staff executive (CSE). Most often the title of this position is the executive director, and sometimes chief executive officer. Regardless the actual title, if this position is the chief staff position to which all other staff positions and contractors report, then this hire is the board’s responsibility. All other hires are the responsibility of the CSE.
There can be many rationalizations board members cite for exceptions to this practice, but none that I’ve encountered in my career that satisfy the practical realities of a well-functioning organization. What are those realities?
Boards of directors are responsible for answering the “big what questions” for their organizations. Such as:
- What is the organization’s mission?
- What are the organization’s priorities?
- What are the organization’s goals?
Once a board of directors has answered these questions, their duties and responsibilities should focus on oversight of the organization’s progress, not processes, against the operational plans developed by the CSE and staff with committee input and ongoing monitoring of the assumptions upon which the answers to the “big what questions” were based.
If board members have executive management experience, they above all should realize that they need to support rather than undermine their chief staff executive. They should be responsive when the CSE seeks advice and counsel, which they may do from time to time.
Chief Staff Executive’s Responsibilities
The CSE is responsible for all the “big how questions” and managing the organization’s scarce resources against the plans approved by the board, such as:
- Allocating scarce resources (funds, staffing resources AND volunteers) in the most effective way possible against competing demands
- Putting the most effective staff team together to achieve the goals and priorities set by the board
- Leading, supporting, guiding and evaluating the staff team
Board members should avoid confusing staff by getting involved in staff matters and avoid the potential of creating a hostile work environment. If the board feels they have a role in selecting staff, then perhaps they should re-evaluate their own roles and responsibilities or consider whether the current CSE is the right person to lead the staff.