Last month I wrote about the cost of turnover in organizational leadership, particularly at the senior executive level. The stories of nonprofit boards making poor decisions in the choice of the next CEO can be quite discouraging. In such cases, organizations often experience a significant loss of intellectual and social capital as well as overall loss of momentum. A wrong decision can set the organization back years. Some will never regain previous momentum without another change in senior executive leadership, which can possibly set the organization back even further.
On the other hand, it’s so refreshing to catch institutions making carefully planned and highly successful leadership transitions. And when that happens repeatedly over five decades—now, that’s something worth noting.
Last month I had the privilege of speaking to the Board of Trustees at AnMed Health in Anderson, South Carolina—a Thompson & Associates client since December 2016. During that visit I also had the opportunity to interact with the AnMed staff and executive team. It’s a fascinating example of an organizational culture that empowers them to do several essential things and to do them surprising well.
CONTINUITY AND SUCCESSION PLANNING AT ANMED
AnMed Health is a 700-bed, five hospital system founded in 1908, anchored by AnMed Medical Center in Anderson, South Carolina. Here’s the short story of some very long leadership tenures at AnMed Health.
Kirk Oglesby served as AnMed’s chief executive for 32 years (1967-1998) and was succeeded by John Miller.
John Miller had been at AnMed since 1973, serving as vice-president of the hospital (1973-1980), then as Chief Operating Officer (1980-1998), and finally as CEO from 1998 to 2015. John Miller is now retired but continues to serve on the AnMed Foundation board and is very active in promoting the organization and the projects they support.
Bill Manson, a 37-year veteran of AnMed Health, assumed the role of CEO on January 1, 2015, only the hospital’s third senior executive in the last half century.
I couldn’t help but notice that (in contrast to typical turnover rates at nonprofit institutions) other senior members of the leadership team also held long tenures. The COO, Jerry Parish, recently retired after 37 years with the AnMed. Peggy Dean, the Director of Nursing, retired after 39 years. AnMed leaders seem to rarely leave the organization.
You might be tempted to think that such infrequent leadership transitions would cause an institution to be stuck in the past, trying to hold onto things that worked 20 to 30 years ago. In my observations, nothing could be further from the truth. They are as innovative and forward-thinking as any hospital system I’ve ever worked with, evidenced by their numerous awards and healthcare leadership positions outside AnMed. Regarding old and new methods, they seem to be very clear on things that should be subject to change and things that should not.
In a follow-up conversation with current CEO, Bill Manson, he commented on several of my questions about the organizational culture at AnMed and its impact on executive transitions, fund development, and donor relations.
INTERVIEW WITH BILL MANSON
EDDIE: IS THERE SOME KIND OF MENTORING PROGRAM AT ANMED FOR FUTURE LEADERS, OR DOES IT JUST HAPPEN ORGANICALLY?
BILL: At the CEO level, it’s purely a mentoring thing. I wish I could say it was a formal, well-defined program that we’ve worked out, but that’s not case. When you’re in and around one another as long as we’ve been around each other, I think it has had a significant impact on the longevity of our leadership team as well as succession planning. We’ve always worked as a team and learned a lot from each other as we go. So, I guess you could call it 360 or cooperative mentoring.
Regarding old and new methods, they seem to be very clear on things that are subject to change and things that are not.
On the management level, we do have a formalized development program that we started probably fifteen years ago. The goal was to identify people within the organization who have leadership capabilities and interests. We put them through a formal year-long program that exposes them to both healthcare issues and individuals within the organization.
We’ve also had administrative fellowship positions in our executive suite. The program has been fairly successful in terms of training leaders. We occasionally hire from this group. However, with so little turnover on our executive team, promising young leaders eventually begin looking for other opportunities to advance their careers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We’ve been able to provide some good training and work experience for talented leaders who are now working in the community and in other healthcare networks.
EDDIE: WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE AT ANMED HEALTH THAT HAS CONTRIBUTED TO THE SUCCESSFUL TRANSITION IN THE CEO POSITION?
BILL: I think it’s a couple of things. First of all, it’s hard to put your finger on the one thing or one person who’s had the greatest impact on (what you refer to as) “the organizational culture.” The competency levels of my two predecessors had a lot to do with it. Kirk Oglesby and John Miller, along with the Board of Trustees, were not only committed to the success of AnMed but to the community as a whole. They imparted the idea that we owe something to our community, not only as an institution but as individuals. Every person in our executive office is involved in at least one or (in many cases) multiple community activities—either as a board member, as a leader, or as a key volunteer. And so, we try to spread our executive group as best we can across the community so that people know us as individuals as much as they know us as an organization.
EDDIE: YOU SAID THERE WERE TWO THINGS.WHAT’S THE OTHER?
(My successors) imparted the idea that we owe something to our community, not only as an institution but as individuals.
BILL: The second thing is really just an extension of the first. We are (by most community standards) a relatively large healthcare system that happens to be located in a relatively small community. The population of the city of Anderson is only 30,000; the entire county, only about 190,000. There are over 4,000 employees in our Anderson location. And so, we are both the largest employer but, also, a very significant community resource. Those factors contribute to the idea that we have a responsibility to serve the community as a whole. We can’t ever lose sight of that.
MY (Eddie’s) PERSONAL NOTE: Some will say that their organizations are limited because their communities are too small with too few resources. Others will say that their organizations are limited because of the number of already-existing resources in their large communities. More often than not, organization limitations have more to do with donor relations and organizational leadership.
EDDIE: IN WHAT PARTICULAR WAYS DOES THE ANMED ORGANIZATION PROFILE CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR FUND DEVELOPMENT EFFORTS?
BILL: In the early ’90s, before we had a legal foundation as the fundraising arm of the institution, we had a development committee of our Board of Trustees. That development committee worked in two different fronts. First of all, it looked for opportunities to develop current and future gifts to AnMed Health. Secondly, the committee built a strong community connection by supporting organizations like the YMCA, the Free Clinic, and Anderson College. Former AmMed CEO, John Miller, the immediate past Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Foothills Community Foundation.
The benefits of the AnMed profile seem to be the tenure of our executive team as a group, the stability of the institution, and the involvement in the community. I think all of those things have contributed to our long-term donor relationships and a reservoir of good will. I hope people think of AnMed as an institution that is involved in the community in the right kind of way and one that warrants their support. That’s the context for a lot of our fundraising as an organization.
MY PERSONAL NOTE: The active participation of Board members in AnMed fundraising initiatives as well as their engagement in a broad range of local causes creates the organizational profile that “warrants support.”
There are some great lessons we can all learn from AnMed Health. What they do is not that complicated—mentor the people they have, build long-term relationships by serving their community, and earn the right to appeal for funds.
Eddie Thompson, Ed.D., FCEP
Founder and CEO, Thompson & Associates
Copyright 2018, R. Edward Thompson