Organizational Conflict: New Executive Director = Unhappy Employees

Photo by deovolenti

Back a couple years ago I was working with an organization that had lost its long-time Executive Director. So, they conducted a search, found a new ED and everyone lived happily ever after.

Not quite so fast…when the new ED started, she seemed great. Everyone got along with her, and she seemed to truly care about the organization. That is until she told a homosexual employee that she thought homosexuality was wrong. And she started not showing up at meetings. Oh, and she started talking about employees with other employees. She also starting talking about changing the focus of some programs, and eliminating others because her personal morals/viewpoints didn’t jive with those program’s focuses. There were so many other issues, I honestly cannot list them all here.

Did I mention this was a tiny organization (staff of 8) and were all friends? Well, needless to say a couple short months after she started the staff were unhappy. Don’t get me wrong, this was obviously not a case new boss-itis. The fundamental problem was that the organization and the Board did not have a clear process for how to deal with this. When one employee went to the Executive Director with her complaints, and later the Board, the Executive Director tried to fire her. When the Executive Director heard another employee went to the Board, she did fire her. The situation got completely out of hand.

Eventually, after the remaining employees had issued numerous complaints to the board (and another employee was fired because she also said something about the ED), the board finally let the ED go. This could have all been resolved if the Board had been more welcoming and discreet about employees coming to them with complaints (they actually told employees they had to tell the ED first about their complaints per the “policy”). This is why it is important to have policies surrounding non-retaliation, whistleblowers, and complaint processes.

Moral of the story: Have a clear policy for complaints against supervisors, and Executive Directors. Here, here, and here are a few to get you started.

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