It happens in every Community College — sometimes frequently, sometimes not, but eventually. The old President or superintendent leaves, a new one is hired, and you and/or your associates are tasked with welcoming the new leader. Big college or small; formal or informal, here are some pointers to consider to make that transition a good one for the new ‘top dog’ as well as everyone else.
First, one person should be put in charge of the welcoming process. He or she should certainly consider enlisting a team to get all the tasks done, but one person needs to be the voice and drive the process so nothing is overlooked.
If your College is well-known and makes use of Public Relations, find out as much as you can about the new CEO and construct a fact sheet. Use a web search, access their resume, and gather as much as you can about the new leader’s past and present. Try to connect with her or him for a quote about why they chose to come to your college and what their immediate and long-range plans are. Also be sure to include a statement from the leader of your board or other established representative about why the new CEO was selected and what expectations they have for the future. This will should be a succinct, facts-driven piece. Should there be any ‘dark history’ in the new leader’s past, such as a legal matter or a firing, be aware of its details in case inquiries are received and address it in a factual manner, if appropriate.
In a smaller, less formal community college, you may want to ask and include little fun bits of background that can personalize and ‘demystify’ just who this new person is. Questions like “Where did you grow up?” and “Are you named after anyone?” or “When you were a child, what did you want to be?” and “What’s the strangest job you have ever held?” or others like these will help people relate to the new head of the college on a personal level. Include a photo of the new leader (usually available online or from their Admin. Assistant) and be sure to allow her or him to review and edit the bio before it is finalized. You want them to be happy with your efforts and to know that you are a caring, professional staff of their soon-to-be-new employer.
This bio/fact sheet should be printed and posted online for anyone who wants to know, both within and external to your college. An example of how this fact sheet might look is included as a reference and starting point for your own needs. A press release with much of the same information should be prepared as well and shared with the local media outlets.
To Party Or Not To Party:
Some people love to be the center of attention while others are loath to be in the spotlight. Inquire directly with the new Administrator if possible, or their closest support staff to find out if he or she has any feelings about a party. If there are options, ask if they’d like a lavish affair, or would prefer something simpler, like a reception. Luncheons, Ice Cream Socials and department-by-department mini “meet and greets” are other ideas to consider.
Preparing For The Arrival:
As obvious as it may seem, while planning for everything else, it can be easy to miss a detail or two. So, make sure you gather all the usual information normally listed on a business card and get those printed ASAP. Also, have letterhead designed and printed, or an online template created for their official use.
If your new President is well known or in the news a lot, you may already know all you need to, but if this is not the case, gathering a little background information can be helpful – especially for their direct-reports and closest associates. Contact their current Administrative Assistant or the H.R. department and ask, “Is this person formal or informal?” “What are her/his critical issues and passions?” “What is their communication style?” and ask for a heads-up about any other special quirks or issues. Being prepared will make the welcoming transition easier for everyone.
Clarifying Your Roll
If you will be an associate or direct-report to the new leader, make sure your resume is up to date and schedule a meeting at the earliest convenient time to welcome him or her to the college and to share your history, position, and job duties. You want them to hear from you — not others — about your history, role, and leadership within the college or district.
Make sure to plan and offer your new President a tour of the campus, or if your college is huge, a tour of the building they’ll be working in as well as a map and description of the services housed in other buildings throughout the city or county. Chances are this person will already know much of this, but if not – be prepared. If you will have a close working relationship with the new chief, ask if she or he would care to hear any of your insights about the business and the people they are likely to interact with. Be careful to keep your comments professional and fact-based and if he or she is not interested, respect that and keep your lips sealed. Be sure to ask how the new leader would like to be addressed to their inner-circle as well as to the company at large and the public. “Ms. New Pres,” or “Dr. New Pres,” or “Marlene,” or…?
While touring, keep moving but pause to offer introductions where it makes sense. Give background information about the college’s relationship with the city where you are located as well as local service organizations they may be interested in joining. Let them know of any community events where they could be introduced, such as Chamber of Commerce meetings, City Council meetings, etc.
Share the love
If your outgoing president/superintendent is leaving to take a job in another community college or institution, if appropriate, share some of the same information with the Public Relations people and his or her new primary Administrative Assistant as a way of familiarizing them with this person you’ve worked with and for. They will appreciate your insights and thoughtfulness.
A Few Words of Advice
Of course, not all of these ideas will ‘fly’ in every workplace. Some will be handled by the legal counsel, while in other instances, the Public Relations or Human Resources departments will take up these tasks. These are offered as suggestions to consider and review for planning purposes, and you’ll need to be sensitive to the structure and culture of your workplace. If you’re not the person in charge of the welcoming process, please offer these ideas as a courtesy to the person, or work team, who will be.
It should be understood, but is still good to state that at your first, and every meeting with the new CEO — if you’re a person they’ll meet with — that all comments and responses should be considered confidential unless clearly stated otherwise.
When asked a question by your new leader, it is wise to ask if this person wants your reply to represent your professional insights and “take” on the matter, or if they are seeking your personal opinion. The two answers may be quite different, and it is good to acknowledge that you will always defer to a professional response but are willing to share person views if those are requested.
Peter Anning is a Marketing and Communications leader with more than 20 years of experience. He has worked under and/or has been in charge of welcoming more than 27 presidents during that time. These recommendations were originally given as a presentation to the California Community College Public Relations Organization (CCPRO) and later to California’s Association of Community College Administrators (ACCA). Anning currently works for 25th Hour Communications, providing marketing, public relations, advertising, and digital media services and support to community colleges throughout the United States.