Changing the Leader and Leading the Change: Elements of Successful Not-for-Profit Leadership Transitions

Changing the Leader and Leading the Change: Elements of Successful Not-for-Profit Leadership Transitions

By Suzanne Clark, Partner, Four Corners Group

Adapted from an article originally published in the summer 2018 issue of Association magazine.

No one stays in a job forever. And most people would agree that it’s probably a good thing they don’t. In North America, like many areas across the globe, the median age of CEOs of the largest companies has risen over the last 10 years. Within Canada’s Not-for-Profit (NFP) sector, retirements and leadership transitions are on the rise. Given that the non-profit sector in Canada currently accounts for $169.2 billion or 8.5% of the country’s annual GDP, changes within the sector can have considerable economic impact. Ready or not, here change comes.

Why does the transition from one leader to another prove to be a challenge for so many organizations? For one, it’s a transition that we may not commonly face. Across Canada, nearly a quarter of all not-for-profit Chief Executives have been in their current role for more than a decade. Within Canadian Associations, an astounding 38% of Chief Executives have been at the helm of their organization for 10+ years. When a leader that holds significant institutional history, knowledge and legacy is stepping down, transition planning becomes all the more important.

Regardless of whether an internal or external candidate is selected as the successor, anticipating their arrival and devising comprehensive onboarding in a deliberate way can make the difference between your new leader becoming a high-performing, well-adjusted successor or an “unintended interim” for the organization. Successful hiring is the starting line to an effective onboarding program, but what deserves equal attention is what happens after you’ve found your next leader.

Why is it that some organizations cope far better than others when it comes to bringing on a new leader? There is no cookie-cutter recipe for acquiring and onboarding a Chief Executive in the Not-for-Profit sector, but a successful outcome can be directly supported by three key elements in the transition process: Proactive Planning, Shifting Focus and Transferring Relationships. Careful attention to these elements can help ensure the best outcome possible for the new successor and, by extension, the organization.

Proactive Planning

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. – Chinese proverb

When burning issues and priorities abound, worthwhile tasks related to proactive planning can collect dust on our “to do” lists. Proactive succession planning initiatives are a smart idea for any organization (as most any management book on the topic will tell you), but when looking at bringing on a new Chief Executive, planning for onboarding is more than just helpful, it is essential. Skipping this step can have very costly consequences for the organization in the form of employee turnover, reduced employee engagement and lost productivity. The Society of Human Resource Management ( cites that effective onboarding improves retention rates and a new employee’s time to productivity. Further, long-term outcomes of good onboarding include increased job satisfaction and organizational commitment.

For the vast majority of employees, when they accept a new position, their engagement level for that organization and the role is at its highest. Effective onboarding contributes to building upon this engagement and reinforces the employee’s decision to join the organization. Right from the start, engagement matters—highly engaged employees are more productive, faster to adapt to their new position, and the organization sees a quicker return on investment. This planning stage need not be overly complicated. At its simplest, it should consist of:

  •  a communication plan for notifying stakeholders and staff of the appropriate information relating to the leadership transition, and at the appropriate times;
  • an orientation plan for what the new leader’s first day(s) on the job will look like, who will be spending time with them, and the necessary logistics to allow them to be set up within the office, with technology, etc.; and
  • an information plan for determining what information/documentation should be shared with the new leader in advance of their start date, once they arrive, and within the first weeks, to help them become as familiar as possible with the organization and role.

It’s no secret that the most successful transitions include a plan for a comprehensive, timely and tailored onboarding process. Distinct from orientation (which is a one-time event on the new hire’s first day), onboarding is a process, and one that starts as soon as an employment agreement is signed and continues for at least 6 months.

Shifting Focus

As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others. – Bill Gates

During a time of transition to a new leader, clarity on who has authority and accountability within the organization is crucial. Who is responsible for the Annual General Meeting happening next month? Who should handle a pressing HR issue? Establishing what authority the Board is giving the Chief Executive and what authority it is retaining throughout the transition and onboarding months is critical and must be clearly understood by all involved. If there is an overlap between the outgoing leader and the incoming leader, the two should establish and agree to a direct plan for who will handle what, until when, and with what consultation. Staff should also know to whom they should be directing their queries. When the accountability shifts, so too should the title. In the most effective transitions, the outgoing leader has changed their email signature to “consultant” as soon as this handover of authority is made. During this time of transition, the outgoing leader shifts their focus from doing to coaching the new leader.

Just as looking at someone else lifting weights won’t help you build muscles, the new leader should approach the transition from a perspective of wanting to learn, get involved and take action. As a final step, the two leaders should agree on parameters for the outgoing executive’s role after leaving the organization. What would an emeritus role look like? What boundaries should be maintained? After the former leader has left the organization, if they are to remain involved, it’s advisable that their role be as a support and resource, rather than mentorship.

Transitioning Relationships

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. —African proverb

Non-profit organizations, including Associations consist of and exist because of people. The relationships that a non-profit leader builds over time are often cited as central to their and the organization’s successes. During the time of leadership transition, emotions are heightened. While no plan will entirely eliminate what others will be feeling about the transition, enacting a plan that makes room for transitioning key relationships is time well spent. Stakeholders who get involved in trying to help a successor improve become psychologically invested in helping them “win,” as opposed to letting them “lose.”

This initiative involves intentionally arranging meetings, conversations and time together where individual or small groups of stakeholders can get to know the successor with the support and facilitation of the outgoing leader. The most successful organizations begin this process as soon as the new leader has been hired, taking advantage of key events and meetings to introduce and welcome the new leader, while also using the opportunity to celebrate the contributions of the outgoing leader. Careful consideration should also be given to how the new leader will be introduced to the Association’s member community. Facilitating a great first impression with members can go a long way to helping the new leader begin their journey and thrive.

Plans are only ever as good as their execution. As onboarding continues through the first 4 to 6 months of the leader’s tenure, the best transitions include regular opportunities for formal and informal feedback from key stakeholders. Similarly, ensuring that a plan for the review of the new Chief Executive’s performance is in place will help everyone, including the executive, to understand what is expected. Supporting your new leader through the transition into your Association is perhaps the best head start you can offer them, and one that has lasting impact.

Change brings opportunity. Most leaders and Boards would concede that a degree of change and turnover at the senior levels is a natural part of any organization’s rejuvenation and can help spur innovation, adaptation and momentum. The Non-profit organizations that embrace this reality and keep an awareness of what lies beyond the horizon are more likely to succeed through leadership transitions and be rewarded in the process.


Suzanne Clark is a Partner at Four Corners Group, the Canadian representative of InterSearch, where she oversees the firm’s Not-for-Profit and Academic Search Practice.

Four Corners Group welcomes new team member

It is with great pleasure we welcome Satinder Singh to Four Corners Group.

Satinder Singh is a Principal with Four Corners Group, assisting clients with attracting and hiring top talent. Satinder’s experience spans a diverse set of industry verticals, including Fortune 500, private, publicly traded, not-for-profit, government and private backed companies. Core areas of functional expertise include CFOs, CAOs, risk management, audit, compliance, corporate development and corporate strategy.
Satinder has continuously delivered exceptional outcomes for her clients, due to her expertise in research, sourcing and her ability to build sustainable relationships with both clients and candidates.

Prior to joining Four Corners Group, Satinder was a Senior Recruiter with a Korn Ferry, a global executive search firm. Satinder began her career in finance with Deloitte and PwC, where she assisted with various transfer pricing engagements for both private and public companies.
Satinder Holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from York University, specializing in Business. Outside of work she enjoys travelling, cooking and spending time with her family.

Satinder can be reached at 416-593-0900 ext. 2290 and at

InterSearch Worldwide: Committed to Diversity & Inclusion

Four Corners Group is pleased to highlight Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiatives in our firm and with Intersearch World Wide Operations. Since 2007, we have demonstrated our commitment to D&I through our firm’s Value Statement – We Value Diversity. We not only assist our clients in this regard, but we put these efforts into practice in a meaningful way within our own organization.

D&I has proven to give businesses a critical advantage and we are pleased to continue to make this a top priority…to help clients realize the full potential of a diverse and inclusive workforce. 

Our Partner, Pamela Colquhoun, is the D&I Practice Lead for Intersearch World Wide Operations. D&I Regional Sub-lead Judit Hegedus of Hungary presented the Importance of D&I in Search on behalf of the Practice Group at the recent Intersearch Conference in Belgium (see below).

InterSearch Worldwide: Committed to Diversity & Inclusion

July 19, 2018

The InterSearch Worldwide global Conference 2018 dedicated special attention to the cause of Diversity & Inclusion

Judit Hegedus, Sub Lead of Diversity & Inclusion Practice Group, CEE

The focus on diversity and inclusion is a unique way to give business a critical competitive advantage. Though there is still a different approach to D&I in the various geographical areas, several international initiatives proved that CEOs recognised their direct positive impact on the economy and corporate performance. ‘The CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion™’ is the most substantial CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace in North America. Europe has its resonance with its 21 national Diversity Charters. By signing a diversity charter, the joining organisation commits to promoting diversity and equal opportunities for its staff.

The global human capital trends also have exciting novelty. They show that D&I at the workplace are CEO-level issues by now; the global political environment increased employee sensitivity to D&I; it is a fact that D&I became an essential component at work, especially at the global companies; it is proved that D&I teams outperform their peers, and D&I created a significant public attention worldwide nowadays.

Our Diversity & Inclusion Practice Group at InterSearch conducted a survey whose aim was to map the practice of Diversity & Inclusion within the global organisation. At the conference, the main lessons of the survey were shared. The questions covered three areas related the general importance of D&I in the country, the IWW partner firm activities with the clients as well as their internal D&I processes and strategies. The answers showed that at the moment our landscape is very diverse on every level.

We all know that bringing D&I to an organisation is difficult – at least at first. We need commitment, resilience and passion. As inclusive leaders, we need to model Diversity and Inclusion making ourselves a part of the diversity and inclusion management process that sets the tone for the rest of the organisation.

And what can we do as executive search companies?

  • First of all, we have to be sensitive when working with clients on matters related to age, gender, religion, ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation.
  • In addition, we should assist clients with diversity & inclusion.
  • Last but not least we need to be committed to practising this within our organisation as well as for promoting the aim of D&I.

InterSearch prides itself on having the best local firms and consultants committed to excellence and Diversity & Inclusion.


Four Corners Group Welcomes New Team Members

At Four Corners Group, we connect great companies with great people. As we continue to evolve and grow, we are thrilled to announce the addition of four new team members based out of our Toronto office. Their arrival bolsters Four Corners Group’s ability to serve clients in different markets and in both official languages.

Sup Das: Practice Lead Technology

Sup Das oversees Four Corner Group’s technology practice with 15 years of demonstrated expertise as an IT professional, helping enterprises to reach their business, organizational, and technical potential through the acquisition of top talent. His philosophy has focussed heavily on the cultivation of long-lasting relationships. Sup’s true value in the marketplace is grounded in his deep network of top and emerging technology executives, and his commitment to understanding the unique opportunities and constraints of each client.

Previously recognized as one of the top recruiters in the industry, Sup has been the recipient of several national recruitment awards at his past employer Randstad (Formerly Sapphire Technologies), including the Gold Medal Performer for both 2008 and 2009, and Silver Medalist in 2010.
Sup holds a Bachelor of Commerce from Queen’s University, an MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business, and he has passed all three Levels of the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) program. Sup has also delivered presentations for the PMI Institute, and the Society for Technical Communication, and he has been a speaker for the Queen’s School of Business (MBA program) and the University of Toronto (Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering).

Christina Darby: Bilingual Associate

Christina comes to us from Futurpreneur Canada, a national non-profit organization dedicated to growing our economy through supporting entrepreneurs. Christina has played a key role in this business, assessing applicants, recruiting mentors, and pairing mentors and applicants together. Christina is a graduate of the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Arts, with a Specialization in French Linguistics.

Sharon Iadipaolo: Project and Marketing Coordinator

Sharon supports the Four Corners Group public sector teams as well as managing corporate marketing initiatives. Sharon brings deep experience in professional services, having worked with a multi-national, publicly traded executive search firm and marketing services experience from the financial services industry. Sharon completed her studies in accounting.

Sarah Shaikh: Associate

Sarah comes to us as an experienced Talent Acquisition Specialist and has recruited within various industries including the financial sector, telecommunications, radio and technology. She has a M.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and is a graduate of McMaster University. She was a Research Assistant and an Academic Tutor during her tenure with the University.

Global Board Survey 2018 – Boards of the Future

What separates great boards from good boards? What role does the Chair play? Which responsibilities relies with board committees? How do you improve board effectiveness? And to what extent can the board impact the company performance? Which trends do you expect to have the most significant impact on the board / Corporate Governance agenda in your country in 2018? Which disruption scenarios are going to impact your board’s agenda in the short term?

The March 2018 global survey results from InterSearch, the worldwide organization of executive search firms operating in 50 countries worldwide, in partnership with Board Network – The Danish Professional Directors Association is now available.

Click the link below for more detail.

Bilingual Associate needed!

Parlez-vous français? We’re looking for a Bilingual Associate to join our dynamic team. If you’re a team player who can plan search strategies, recruit and interview candidates, assist in the execution of searches and make a positive contribution to our culture, we should talk.

As an ideal candidate, you have:

• Fluency in both French / English (written and spoken);
• Outstanding written and verbal communication skills, coupled with strong project management skills;
• 2-5 years of recruitment/talent acquisition experience from an executive search or contingency recruitment firm;
• Or, 2-5 years of corporate recruiting experience and a passion for client service;
• The ability to work within a team environment and collaborate closely with peers and senior level colleagues;
• A commitment to producing great work and exceeding client expectations;
• The desire to make a significant contribution to the success of client projects, and also the company.

We provide excellent remuneration, benefits, flexibility to work from home, and invest in technology and training for all employees. We also offer a uniquely positive corporate culture that is rare within our industry. We are also involved in helping employees engage with non-profit organizations in the community, and gives back 1% of all revenues to registered charities.

If this sounds good so far, we invite you to join us. Four Corners Group is one of Canada’s leading retained executive search firms – we provide personalized executive search services to a diverse group of global clients by connecting great companies with great talent. Our Team has completed thousands of search assignments in virtually every functional area and industry sector. This provides us with enormous insight into a wide cross-section of industries. We perform all of these services in a confidential, trustworthy and transparent manner. Our clients range from early-stage “start ups” to large “Fortune 100″ global companies, as well as the non-profit and public sector. We provide superior client service and partner with our clients to identify, recruit and acquire great talent locally, nationally and, as a member of InterSearch World Wide, internationally.

To get started please contact Jennifer Wiley, Principal at Four Corners Group at 416-593-0900 ext. 2225 or send your resume to:

Four Corners Group is pleased to be selected to execute this important search for an inaugural CEO for this provincial health care organization.

Government of Ontario

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care/ Self-Directed Personal Support Services Ontario

(Self-Directed Care Organization or SDCO)

Chief Executive Officer

Ontario’s Self-Directed Care Organization (SDCO) is in its start-up phase and is an operational service delivery agency of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. SDCO is responsible for delivering personal support services, as defined by the Home Care and Community Services Act, 1994, in a self-directed manner.  Specifically, SDCO is responsible for promoting and providing flexibility for clients or their substitute decision-makers with respect to the following:

  • Choice of personal support worker to provide the client’s personal support services and;
  • Scheduling when the personal support worker provides personal support services to the client.

SDCO operates in the home care sector and is required to work with the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) to provide services to eligible clients.

SDCO directly employs Personal Support Workers and other administrative positions and ensures a high quality standard of service. Examples of the agency’s operational tasks include the following:

  • Directly recruit, screen, and employ PSWs;
  • Work with LHINs to receive client referrals and provide services according to each client’s plan of service determined by their LHIN;
  • Manage client intake and matching with PSWs; and
  • Work with clients and caregivers to facilitate client scheduling of services and delivery of PSW services in the home

SDCO will begin delivering initial services to select areas in the province by Spring 2018 with province wide services to be fully implemented in 2021.

An inaugural CEO is sought for this trailblazing service organization. In the ideal, you have senior level leadership experience in the broader home care/community care sector, with a penchant for operational excellence. Start-up experience is highly desirable, as is experience working with a board(s). A skilled negotiator, and politically astute, you are adept at navigating the interstitial space enveloping the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the LHINs, home care agencies, personal support workers, and the clients for whom this organization was established to serve. With proven business acumen, and the ability to finesse multiple stakeholder relationships, you know how to energize this novel centralized employer agency which fulfills a policy commitment set out in the Ministry’s Patients First: A Roadmap to Strengthen Home and Community Care.

The Chief Executive Officer position is based in Toronto, Ontario, but will involve travel across the province. For more information or to explore this opportunity further, please contact:

Jim Stonehouse, Partner    416-593-0900 x2240
Samantha Walton, Associate     416-593-0900 x2265

Ontario’s Chief Scientist Announced

Four Corners Group is pleased to share that the Ontario Chief Scientist search has come to successful conclusion with the appointment of Dr. Molly Shoichet to the role. Shoichet is a Professor at the University of Toronto and an award-winning expert in the area of polymers for drug delivery and tissue regeneration.

“Supporting the government in its search for Ontario’s first ever Chief Scientist was a unique and most memorable experience,” says Four Corners Group Partner, Suzanne Clark. “Leading this search opened my eyes to the incredible depth and breadth of outstanding talent we have in Ontario and within Canada in the sciences. This is an important new role for our province and we are delighted that Dr. Shoichet will serve as the inaugural Chief Scientist.”

Talk of public perceptions and interest in science for Ontarians was recently brought into focus through the Ontario Science Centre’s second annual science literacy survey, which found that while 33% of Canadians consider themselves science illiterate, 8 out of 10 Canadians want to know more about science and how it affects our world.

From the Office of the Premier’s official news release:

“An internationally respected and award-winning expert in the study of polymers for drug delivery and tissue regeneration, as a teacher, mentor and researcher Shoichet has demonstrated her dedication to the advancement of scientific knowledge and excellence.

In the coming months, Shoichet will help develop Ontario’s strategic research agenda and grow the province’s reputation as a top destination for global research talent. The Chief Scientist will also provide advice informed by science to help government decision-makers tackle some of the greatest challenges of our time, such as climate change, aging populations and the impact of transformative technologies.

Dr. Shoichet is the recipient of 43 prestigious national and international awards. In 2015, she was the North American Laureate for the L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science and in 2017, she won the Killam Prize in Engineering, the most important engineering prize in Canada. She is the only person ever to be inducted into all three of Canada’s National Academies: the Canadian Academy of Sciences of the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Academy of Engineering, and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.

Dr. Shoichet was appointed to the Order of Ontario in 2011. In 2013, her contributions to Canada’s innovation agenda and the advancement of knowledge were recognized with the QEII Diamond Jubilee Award.

Dr. Shoichet will advise Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne directly on key scientific matters… [and] will report to Reza Moridi, Minister of Research, Innovation and Science.”

Four Corners Group Places North Region President for FirstService Residential

Four Corners Group is excited to announce that John Brea has joined our client, FirstService Residential, as North Region President.

Four Corners Group is pleased to have led this extensive search, and is thrilled to have placed the successful candidate.

FirstService reviewed a significant number of highly talented professionals each of whom displayed incredible enthusiasm for the opportunity. The North Region has been one of the fastest growing regions in the last few years and there continues to be tremendous upside in the region.

To continue to support that growth, FirstService looks forward to leveraging John’s experience and depth of knowledge including operations, risk management, supply chain, customer service, process improvement, talent development, employee engagement, strategy and sales. John is an ideal culture fit for the FirstService team and exhibits the same enthusiasm for customer service and associate development that is the hallmark of FirstService.

John previously spent 20 years at Walmart with leadership roles in Canada and Puerto Rico, and playing key roles in projects in Mexico, UK, Argentina and China. Most recently, as Head of Operations at Kent Building Supplies, Atlantic Canada’s largest big box home improvement retailer, John led process and customer service improvements as well as efficiency efforts in staff utilization.

Please join us in congratulating John Brea on his new role with FirstService Residential.

About FirstService Residential

FirstService Residential is the leading property and community management company in North America, providing full-service, professional association management services to over 8,000 client associations. Each day, every member of the FirstService team strives to fulfill their mission – to deliver exceptional service and solutions that enhance the value of every property and the lifestyle of every resident in the communities they manage.

About Four Corners Group Inc.

Four Corners Group Inc. is a leading executive search firm, respected nationally for providing high touch partner centric search services and innovative talent solutions and for delivering exceptional results. Founded in 2007, Four Corners Group has conducted hundreds of search assignments across diverse industries, with specialty focus in consumer goods, retail, real estate, healthcare, travel and tourism, not-for-profit, associations, academic, manufacturing, marketing services and professional services.

Canadian owned and operated, Four Corners Group has offices in Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo and its team of senior level professionals draws upon decades of experience.

Four Corners Group offers a comprehensive range of talent solutions enabling your organization to recruit, attract and retain the best talent at all levels.