Acting CEO

Mentoring Story
Thea held the position of COO at her organisation and was appointed to be acting CEO for a six month period while the long-term CEO took extended leave. She had been with her organisation for 4.5 years and saw the NDIS rollout come through. She has a background in HR and recognised that shifting to a more transactional approach to service delivery was significantly impacting the culture of the organisation. There was an overwhelming sense of tightness during this transition and staff were sad that they’d lost their human-centred focus, which was central to how they had operated in the previous model. Thea recognised that their clients and staff have to be at the heart of what they’re doing. She was aware of the Board’s strong loyalty to the original CEO and knew that navigating change as an acting CEO would prove challenging.

Thea started with her mentor just before her CEO role began. They had regular monthly meetings in which he advised her on traversing the Board challenges. He was able to provide insights on what was reasonable, manage her expectations, and suggest different approaches to achieve results.

One of the strategies Thea implemented early on, based on her mentor’s advice, was to re-induct the Board. She took them to the organisation’s facilities, showing them the operational “nitty gritty” in an effort to reorient them to a more human-centred vision. She also introduced several initiatives that focused on staff engagement, culture building, and client-satisfaction, including client interviews that were shared in Board reports and with the organisation. She claims that this approach worked brilliantly and gave the organisation a strong focus for the year.

Importantly, Thea’s organisation finished the year with a huge financial turnaround under her leadership. Her mentor brought significant financial management skills to their relationship, helping her refocus spending on staff support and tightening in other areas. This shift attracted clients to their services and resulted in the organisation’s best financial year to date.

Other Comments
Thea stated that dealing with the early days of COVID-19 would have been immensely challenging without that buffer. It enabled them to strategise very early on without scrambling. Thea credits her Kilfinan mentoring relationship as being instrumental in supporting her to use the 6 months as acting CEO to make a difference.

Thea also reflected that the additional professional development offered through Kilfinan’s events and mentee meetings was really helpful for her. She found that having access to her peers in the sector was very beneficial for generating ideas and working through problems.

Why do we like this story?
• Based on the counsel and experience of her mentor, Thea was able to persuade the board to support her new focus. She overcame the significant challenge of their loyalty to the other CEO.

• Thea was able to leverage the strong financial skills of her mentor to refocus spending on her staff, which went a long way to attracting clients to her organisation, ultimately leaving her organisation in a stronger financial position.

• The strong financial position enabled her to effectively strategise and plan for COVID, without having to let go of many staff members.

What does this story tell us?
• Thea’s mentor went into the relationship ready to maximise the six-month period. He looked for where he could support her in taking bold steps.

• Her mentor brought very strong financial management skills to the relationship, enabling her to position the organisation more strongly so that they were better able to manage the COVID environment.

• Kilfinan broadened Thea’s NFP community networks and the peer to peer collaboration proved valuable.
Names and other identifying details have been changed to protect mentor and mentee confidentiality.