Business Practices (Achieving Administrative Excellence)
- By Dr. Scott D. Miller, Dr. Marylouise Fennell
- April 1st, 2016
A presidential search takes six months or more. As the
process nears its end and an announcement
about the selection is imminent,
timing is all-important. Make it too soon,
and you may upstage the new president (as well
as offend the current one); too late, and you miss
an unparalleled opportunity for visibility.
Timing is also critical for the future of
the new presidency. Many institutions fail to
capitalize on this key element with internal
and external stakeholders — a big mistake.
Some dos and don’ts to follow in the
Coordinate the notification and announcement process on
Assuming the new CEO is currently a president
or senior administrator elsewhere, arrange timing of the
announcement simultaneously on both campuses, with official
media spokespersons alerted to manage media inquiries.
Even before the new CEO is named, an announcement
timetable should be agreeable to the hiring institution and to the
finalists — after campus visits and reference checks, but before
the final search committee (and Board of Trustees) decision.
This will include an announcement date and when the successful
candidate would agree to be on hand on the hiring campus.
Make sure, too, that the campus community is notified
shortly before the media are.
Prepare media releases in advance.
The hiring institution
should prepare a draft media release on all finalists in advance
of the announcement date — vetted beforehand and ready for
release immediately after the announcement is made.
Clear the decks for the new president.
As a professional courtesy,
we’ve found it symbolically important for the outgoing president
to be off-campus when the announcement is made, and for a
day or two thereafter. This properly places the spotlight on the new
president, and signals the beginning of a successful transition.
Leverage future strategic opportunities.
and media conference will be the first of many opportunities for
the incoming president to meet the future stakeholders and to
set the tone for the coming administration, even before officially
assuming the presidency. The occasion can also be used to cultivate
important alumni and other donors while outlining a vision
and preliminary institutional objectives. Institutions and new
presidents who do not take advantage of these early opportunities
miss a critical part of the “honeymoon period,” when both
town and gown audiences will be most receptive.
We reiterate the importance of a formal transition plan,
which begins with the official announcement and culminates in
an inauguration or installation.
Jump the gun.
We’ve seen professional careers destroyed and
unsuccessful candidates embarrassed when hiring institutions
make premature announcements or allow the names of finalists
to leak out before a contract is signed.
To prevent such gaffes, search committees must strictly
honor “do not call” reference requests until a final offer has been
made and accepted; after final checks are made, delay a public
announcement until all details are in place.
Prolong the transition.
Best practice dictates that new presidents
assume duties as soon as practicable after the announcement,
when momentum is at its peak. In an ideal world, a sitting
president would depart campus for a few days before his or her
successor arrives. While preexisting commitments do not always
make this possible, and depending on the circumstances of the
departure, a former president would strike a balance between
hovering and being available for counsel and perhaps key media
or advancement calls with the successor. An unwillingness to relinquish
day-to-day leadership of the campus can send conflicting
messages, dooming a new presidency.
When managed well, a presidential announcement can successfully
launch a new presidency. When botched, it often wreaks
havoc with formal planning, placing the hiring institution on the
defensive and the incoming CEO in a weakened position.
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.
Dr. Scott D. Miller is president of Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk/Virginia Beach, Virginia. He was previously president of Bethany College, Wesley College, and Lincoln Memorial University. He is chair of the Board of Directors of Academic Search, Inc. and serves as a consultant to college presidents and boards.
Dr. Marylouise Fennell, RSM, a former president of Carlow University, is senior counsel for the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and principal of Hyatt Fennell, a higher education search firm.