I will admit that I have mixed feelings about David’s transition. On the one hand, he has been my mentor and supervisor for the majority of my working career. He has been a strong leader for the company. We will all miss his integrity, honesty and passion for this work.
At the same time, he has done such a good job of preparing us all for this transition, that it almost feels like just another step in a journey that we have been on for many years.
I am personally grateful for David’s friendship, mentorship, support and guidance over the past 15 years of my time at Reliacom CSD, CITI and Community IT. I have had the great fortune of working for someone with a degree of integrity that is not easy to find in our world. I am honored and privileged to lead Community IT into its next chapter.
I am also very excited for David as he continues to grow and develop his passion for helping nonprofit organizations use technology more effectively.
Over the past 15 years, I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of nonprofit organizations, with a lot of lessons learned. One of the most important has been the difficulty and the importance of leadership transitions; especially when they involve the founder of the organization.
A few years ago, the Center for Applied Research released a paper discussing this important issue. In it they outlined 5 steps that businesses and nonprofit organizations should follow to ensure a smooth transition.
- Plan for business leadership succession – “Succession should be thought of as a mindset rather than an impending, dreaded future event.”
- Use strategy to preserve the core values of the business – “Develop a business strategy that clarifies values so that business leadership knows what they will say ‘no’ to doing.”
- Develop sufficient cohesion among the ownership group – “Ownership must support the business.”
- Strengthen shareholder governance and leadership skills – “Shareholders play a critical role in the success of an organization.”
- Develop the organization and its culture – “Creating the environment for a nimble and innovative business means directing leadership and board attention towards employees.”
When our founder and CEO, David Deal, bought the Community Services Division of Reliacom from Chris Chang in 2001, I am not sure he had these 5 objectives explicitly in mind. But as I’ve been reflecting on the past 14 years, it is clear that David was focused on achieving all of them.
Last week on our blog, David went into detail on how he accomplished this, and I encourage everyone to read his two part post. I will focus on three specific factors that have contributed to a successful transition.
At the risk of sounding self serving, I believe that Community IT is blessed with strong and committed leadership. This is no accident. From the beginning, David was intentional about getting everyone in the company involved in decision making. Even before we were employee owned, David believed it important to involve all staff in the life of the company.
Our mission focus has helped to drive and support staff involvement. For our staff, Community IT is more than just a job. It is a chance to make a positive difference in the world, doing work that we love. The nature of our work naturally engages our staff.
Continual professional development has also been a constant in David’s career and it is something he imparted, promoted and supported throughout the organization. All but one member of our senior leadership team started in an entry level technical position at the company. It may take longer, but this approach helped to ensure that we have talented and committed leadership that believes deeply in the strategy and mission of the company.
2. Board of Directors
While having a Board of Directors is a requirement for any nonprofit organization, for a small business it can sometimes feel like an unnecessary use of time and resources. Since incorporating as an employee owned company in 2005, David has been committed to creating and developing a mature and professional Board of Directors.
He understood, early on, that the quality of the Board should not be defined by the size of the company, and that having a well established Board is vital to long term success.
David has put significant effort into recruiting, guiding and building the capacity of our Board. Today we have a strong and mature Board of 9 board members (5 external and 4 “internal” or employed by the company). This Board will ensure both strategic consistency of the company moving forward as well as effective oversight of company leadership.
3. Employee Owners
By far the most visionary and effective component of this transition was David’s decision to forego sole ownership back in 2005 and turn the company into an Employee Owned business. (Technically, the company is owned by an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOP). Not only did this create the groundwork for governance and leadership, but it was also consistent with David’s deeply held value of servant leadership.
In other words, David Deal always saw himself as the steward for a mission and work that was greater than him, greater than me, greater than any one of us individually. And he consistently took the steps necessary to ensure that both the mission and work of Community IT would live on successfully no matter where life and career would take him.