Corporate to community: making the transition work

For many community organisations, it’s a logical strategy to bring ex-corporates into the c-suite given the depth and nature of government reforms requiring them to operate in a business-to-consumer way rather than business-to-government.

Boards and CEOs often believe a corporate background will bring commercial know-how, ideas from other industries and consumer expertise into management teams.

That can be true, but hiring an ex-corporate doesn’t always end well, for a number of reasons. However there are steps you can take to maximise the potential of recruits from outside the community sector and fully utilise their experience and skills.

Brand impact

Aged care providers have a brand just like any other business. In many respects, your brand is your primary intangible business asset.

A brand holds an intrinsic and intangible meaning in the minds of your customers and sets an expectation about the service they will receive from your company. It’s also an attractive proposition to people from the corporate sector to work in a business that benefits the community and the greater good.

But investing in people is risky, especially someone who doesn’t know your sector. How these executives turn up, how long they stay and the difference they make is important to your brand and culture.

Flawed assumptions

I have come across dozens of ex-corporates with preconceived or flawed assumptions about what the health and community sector actually “does”. The expectation gap begins with a values clash around where your business sits on the purpose-profit continuum - a poor cultural fit.

These people often come with a myopic focus on “what is wrong” founded on a presumption that only a corporate methodology can fix whatever that is. This is sometimes seen by others as an arrogant attitude from someone who has spent less than five minutes in the organisation.

In the health and community sectors the stakeholder base is much broader and complex. The “organisational rhythm” is a different tempo, because big decisions require time and consultation to gain genuine consensus.

Successful CEOs in the NFP sector know this only too well. But it can be eminently frustrating for a gung-ho ex-corporate leader used to doing things their own way.

The hiring outcome can be a failure to utilise the expertise of a person that was meant to improve the condition of the business. What can be worse is the development of fractured relationships with capable long-standing employees.

Critical elements for transition success

So how can ex-corporate hires successfully fit in and integrate their expertise from the get-go?

Here are some critical elements for successful leadership transition into Community Aged Care:

  • Start with a focus on what's working and seek to understand what’s not

  • Slow down. Incrementally adapt their commercial skillset and expertise to the sector

  • Find ways to develop deeper connections with the people around

  • Enable opportunities for self-reflection – to reassess assumptions and perceptions

The benefits of a successful ex-corporate leader transition into the community sector are profound. It starts with developing stronger working relationships and maintaining a healthy respect for the past to ignite future possibilities. Having and keeping the right people on your team bus brings a fresh perspective and new ideas. You will get you places you never thought possible.

All of this strengthens and reinforces your brand. Your most important asset. For a business that is in the business of human services, it is your brand that attracts the right people to ultimately drive your economic engine.

There’s a bunch of talented disenchanted corporate leaders looking around for work with meaning. Perhaps your brand is just what they might be looking for.