Wikimedia Deutschland/Transition Team/Executive transition report
Overview: Our Steps in transition
- Step 1: Building the transition team
- Step 2: External advice
- Step 3: Definition of job requirements and creation of job advertisement
- Step 4: Screening of all applicants
- Step 5: Narrow down the choice
- Step 6: Job interviews
- Final steps
Step 1: Building the transition team
- Stakeholder identification
- Responsibilities and communication
The basis for our transition process was the transition team, which was set up by a board resolution at the very beginning of it. Our approach was to include a representative from every group, which would be affected by the decision for the ED to ensure a multi-stakeholder participation process. We wanted to have a broad acceptance and a strong legitimation for the transition process and so all “stakeholder groups” should be addressed.
Besides board members and the former ED as a consulting member of the team, we identified staffers and one representative each for the volunteer-community as well as for the membership-base. We decided to appoint the member representative, but to have a short election within the volunteer-community to select the representative for this group.
Responsibilities and communication
In our setting, the transition team was solely responsible for the further process. A board resolution framed this mandate, but further board resolutions were avoided. The transition team had independence in the further decisions and was obliged to give clear recommendations to the board in case any resolutions are necessary. Nevertheless, we consider regular reports towards the board to be very helpful. For us, it was one person being member of both the transition team and the board and it was his clear task to report from the one committee to the other.
To keep up the broader acceptance for the process – not only in terms of acceptance by the board but also by members, community and other interested parties, – a clear, open and frequent communication was very important for us. However, there has been phases during the process, in which – at first impression – it did not seem to be in order to give any update, especially for confidential reasons. It was important for the search that we made clear and guaranteed that all transition team members complied with the confidentiality and – otherwise applicants could have been highly irritated, which would not do any good for the process as a whole. To ensure the privacy of all candidates, each team member of the transition team had to sign a NDA.
Members, community and staff nevertheless continued to ask what’s going on for fair reasons. As a consequence, in cases in which we were not in position to give details because of confidentiality, we told them about the process, not about the confidential content itself. This resulted in a high level of clarity in terms of steps to be done and steps that have already been made and minimized uncertainty in our sphere. We decided to have three members of the team with clear communication tasks and responsibilities: Kurt Jansson with a special responsibility for the members, Abraham Taherivand for the communication within the organisation and on an international level and Tim Moritz Hector building the bridge to the board and to international channels as well. We decided not to have more, because the feeling of being responsible for the communication disappears, not to have less because we needed responsible sparring partners.
We also translated all of our reports in English and published them on meta, so even other interested or related organisations were informed about the process. If you are not able to do this on your own, you might ask the community to translate.
Step 2: External advice
- Requirements and expectations
- Small working groups: Selection
- Comparison of different offers
- Shortlist-presentation and decision
Requirements and expectations
As soon as the transition team was set up and responsibilities were clear, we were also sure from the beginning that we wanted to support the entire process with external professional expertise to ensure a successful process. We started with defining requirements for external advice and our expectations to the collaboration.
For us, it was very important to work together with external advisers and all in all was considered very helpful.
There are different models for external advice: (a) Strong head hunting with a small group of specialised candidates, who are in an executive position at the time of search and get approached by the advisor (b) a broader search approach with advertising e. g. in newspapers, job forums and internal networks of the external advisor.
Both approaches can have advantages and disadvantages. If the position one has to offer is very attractive, headhunting might be promising – especially keeping in mind that hiring firms will usually only make an offer to do so in cases in which they are quite sure to find someone. On the other hand, one will have a broader selection of applicants if you go for a broader approach – and might have an interesting candidate with an unusual background.
We finally decided for a mixed model with partly direct approach, supported by specialized advertisings.
Our next step was to gather a list of potential advisors and receive different offers so we were able to compare them. The search for hiring firms was done in small working groups of 2-3 people. This resulted in much more effective work. Collaboration in small working groups was helpful in several situations for us.
Our selection was based on a combination of desk research and recommendations out of existing organizational and business relation networks. It is also worth to ask independent organizations (e.g. in our case “Deutscher Stifterverband”) for advice who to reach out for offers. It was helpful to do a cross market analysis of market leaders national and international wide. While analyzing the offers, we also had to keep an eye on our special setup as an NGO, on our culture of collaboration and discussion and if the advisors would be a good fit. This was very important from our perspective.
We prepared the following information for the shortlist presentation in the whole team which were necessary to decide about the choice:
- Experience of the advisor
- Customer base and references
- Expectations to the collaboration
- Our adviser should have experience in NGO-work
- Financial aspects
- Fit in the working and collaboration mode of our transition team
In case decision-making would have been difficult, we were prepared to use “gradients of agreement” (for example like this) as decision-making-tool.
Step 3: Definition of job requirements and creation of job profile
- Input from represented groups
- Development and review of the advertisement
- Resolution on the final requirements
Input from the represented groups
Each member of the team who represented a certain stakeholder group was responsible to put together input from the group they represented. The methods differed widely ranging from broader surveys to single queries. The choice of the method should be left to each representative as all the groups should be treated individually. The key question was: “How should our new ED (not) be like?”
The input has been considered within the transition team when we had a workshop to define the basic points of the profile. In this workshop, it was not only important to take these inputs into account, but also discuss requirements within the group and come to a decision all members can stand for.
The requirements we defined then had to be prioritized – which was very important to have a clear basis for the next steps.
Development and review of the advertisement
Derived from that, we put together a job advertisement. The biggest part of the job in this part was done by the advisor, who provided a draft for a text. In this process we had to keep in mind that the job requirements / the profile and the job advertisement are two different documents: While the requirement-document is an internal list of criteria, the advertisement is a text to be published.
The members of the transition team then had the chance to review the text and together with the advisor, two responsible members from the team went through the comments and tried to incorporate the suggestions into the text. We iterated this process two times before we had a final resolution on this. The latter was very important to have a clear commitment by all members of the team to work with this text as all the following steps are based on this one and the job profile.
The whole process was moderated and supported by the advisor.
Step 4: Screening of all applicants
After finishing the profile and the description, we had a call for applications for about 8 weeks.
The screening already consists of several application-steps. Therefore we relied on and trusted the process of the advisor. The result of the screening, which itself consisted of several steps, was a “long list” of 10–15 applicants, based on telephone-interviews, operated by the advisor.
Step 5: Narrow down the choice
- Discussion of the “long list”
Discussion of the “long list”
We discussed the “long list” proposed by the advisor in two different rounds.
In the first round the applicants were presented in a partly anonymised format (hidden name, age, origin, gender and picture) to have a first impression only of the very basic qualifications and CVs. In this presentation, the advisor reasoned for each of the candidates, why he/she made it to the shortlist and referred to certain points in the job requirement and to the several interviews within the screening process. The team members had the opportunities to ask questions and had a very first discussion about the candidates.
In a second round, we looked at the real identities and discussed in more detail about the qualifications and profiles of the candidates.
We finally decided to invite five of them for job interviews. In order to avoid too long waiting periods for the candidates, we had already prepared time slots and rooms for the job interviews, so the applicants could directly be informed about details of their interviews.
Step 6: Job interviews
- Criteria to analyze
- External advisors
We set a clear schedule for the application days. Our application process included one presentation to the whole transition team and overall three talks between groups of two to three transition-team-members and the applicants, so each of the applicants had four slots all in all. We had to plan at what time who of the candidates was going to perform in which group and where and we had to avoid irritations because of organisational problems. The advisor supported us with that not only in planning but also in leading applicants through the process etc. The application days were scheduled not at WMDE due of privacy and organizational reasons. Therefore, we used office rooms in the center of Berlin.
We designed groups of two or three people, each with respect to their background, so we had groups with a different focus, representing the whole array of the stakeholder’s interests. The groups had to prepare a pool of key questions – for each group, one of the members was responsible to create and agree on a guideline within the group.
We also designed a task for the presentation to the whole team. The applicants had some time to prepare this presentation beforehand, so we had to keep in mind that the task description had to be sent to them a few days before the application day – and all at the same time.
Criteria to analyse
Together with the advisor, we generated another guideline for the transition team, which included clear criteria to have an individual rating after the interviews. This guideline also referred to the job description.
The transition team needed another three telephone-conferences for these steps as the members had the chance to review all three parts of it. We discussed all the comments to keep a broad acceptance for all our steps.
One special point on which we want to elaborate a little bit more is the role of the external advisors in the job interviews.
While we decided to have external advisors present during the interviews just to document the sessions, we got several feedback from applicants who found it rather irritating that the advisors didn’t interact with the applicants. Their expectation was, that the externals would have a role in the interview.
There are for sure clear advantages of this model: The externals can give a better and more profound recommendation if they are involved in the interviews itself and can ask questions which might be useful from their perspective. On the other hand, a strong involvement in the process of the interview could lead to a slight dilution of the perceptions of the transition team. In the end, this issue is a difficult trade-off.
We let the external advisor document our sessions. This documentation is very important as it is the basis for the final decision and the recommendation to the board. In several review sessions together with the advisor, we guaranteed the needed structure of this documentation to make it possible to work with this in the further sessions.
It is important, that the documentation has a clear structure and to make sure to have a good understanding between all involved parties, which documents are going to be shared with whom.
After the interviews, the transition team had to make a decision on whom to recommend to the board. The clear but confidential communication in this phase of the process is exceedingly important.
In our case, the board received the recommendation and some additional information a very few days after the decision was made. After this, a meeting with the favoured candidate and the board was arranged. This meeting was only a get-together – an additional “application process” was not mandated and the purpose of this meeting was to have a personal impression of the recommended person. The board made its decision right after this meeting.
Negotiations about contracts and other legal aspects based on german law took us further three months until the first day of work of our new ED Christian Rickerts. All in all the process had a duration of 8 months.