A Merger Reflection: Sierra Community House
“You are just being naïve if you think the other directors will stay” was the response from one of my core donors when I told her that I had been named Executive Director (ED) of the soon to be formed organization based on the merging of four social service non-profits. She had asked if the three remaining ED’s would be leaving and I shared that we had created new positions for them, based on interests and strengths and open dialogue. Almost two years later, the three former ED’s remain with newly formed organization. Our circumstances worked well in our favor. We were all relatively new as Executive Directors to our respective organizations: the longest tenure having been four years, the newest less than a year. As we worked to create our leadership model and org chart we were not dealing with founding or career Executive Directors. We had four leaders committed to a more effective and efficient service delivery model and we all ended up in positions that cater to our strengths.
The structure of our org chart represented the staff we had at the time of the merger. Our commitment for the first year as a newly formed organization was to find a home for every staff member coming into the new organization. This can be challenging as there may be redundancy in positions or missing skill-sets for a rapidly growing organization. As for the leadership team, we created a structure that has served us well. Here is where the 3 former ED’s landed:
- The ED of one of the Family Resource Centers is now the Director of Family Support and Community Engagement. This program is essentially the 2 Family Resource Centers merged together as one program. Having a former ED as the program director has been valuable as the newly merged team coalesces and the program grows. Additionally, the increase in demand due to the impacts of Covid 19 required steady, capable leadership, which is a hallmark of the program director.
- The ED of the Hunger Relief organization is now the Operations Director. Her previous role as ED equipped her for her new position because it required organizational skills and attention to detail as she oversaw food distributions, home delivery programs, food warehouses and storage practices as well as working with and managing many volunteers. These skills have been critical as she oversees the operations of the newly created organization.
- The ED of the other Family Resource Center is now the Deputy Executive Director. When we envisioned this position working with the ED, we saw this position as the inward facing leadership, supporting programs while the ED would be more external facing working with partners, donors, the board and more regional and statewide efforts. This model has served us well. We have a strong working relationship with open and constant communication. We have had to work through challenges such as determining roles and expectations with previously established relationships as well as figuring out appropriate communication methods internally while navigating a larger organizational and staffing structure.
Having three former Executive Directors now in varying roles of leadership provides profound support for me as the Executive Director. There is an understanding and appreciation for what is required of being an ED and having staff who have experienced that is extremely helpful. It also provides for trust in competency and freedom in individual leadership methods that were required in previous ED roles. The level of leadership within the new organization is substantially greater with the former ED’s in their current roles. In addition, as we continue to work through the integration of the 4 organizations, having all four of the former EDs on staff helps ensure the transfer of context and historical knowledge which has been critical in areas of integration such as finance, grants, programs and human resources. However, this also means that they are not fully forward facing, focusing on their new roles as many tasks have carried over from their previous positions as EDs. We have begun reviewing this challenge via a Job Description Analysis exercise which aims at identifying carryover tasks, creating a delegation plan or updating current job descriptions if they need adjustment.
Sierra Community House is still in its infancy as we wrap up our second year as an organization. And considering that the majority of our time as Sierra Community House has been during a global pandemic, we have made remarkable strides towards integrating the 4 original organizations while working towards a culture and vision unique to Sierra Community House. This reflects an incredible team committed to moving the mission forward.
Read the full case study on the Sierra Community House journey here.