This session documentation was approved by the speaker.
The Wikimedia Foundation is in the process of defining the framework for a new leadership position for the organization. In this session, WMF board and C-level staff present the current status of the process, its timeline and the next steps. The C-level team has already defined certain aspects for an ED profile. We would like to hear your thoughts on a few key questions:
Many chapters have also gone through leaderships transitions in recently years. What is your advice? What did you learn? How did you get it right the next time around?
What do you see as WMF's lessons learned from the E.D. search two years ago?
What qualities would you like to see in a new WMF executive director?
What should our process be going forward?
How can we have one conversation so that chapters, the community at large, the staff, and the board can discuss this together and hopefully reach a high level of agreement about what we need?
Search process and profile take Affiliates’ input into account.
Lisa Gruwell and Kathleen Yazbak
Summary of the session
Lisa Gruwell (Head of Advancement) started the session by saying that WMF has been searching for the new ED for the steering committee. Community and affiliates had the opportunity to influence the search. Kathleen who was leading the project is here to learn from you.
Lisa asked for affiliates’ to share their experiences with their own ED searches. A participant said that they had a very smooth ED transition this year because the previous ED was available for showing the way and working together with the new ED for a period of time. The new ED was not from our movement but from another organization with similar values.
Another participant described their ED transition. They have a written report of it on Meta. They had a diverse transition team consisting of board members, staff member, former ED, community, and chapter members. There were clear roles and responsibilities within the team and regular updates about the process. The team selected an HR firm, created a job description, managed job interviews, and presented one candidate to the board. The team also designed the transition phase together with staff and board.
Lisa asks about what qualities do affiliates wanted to see in the next ED.
Opinions expressed by the group:
ED is the face of the organization so s/he should be able to talk to audiences and present well
To overcome many different challenges (technical, community etc) the ED should not be an expert in these but be extremely good with communicating, delegating, keeping overview, making tough decisions
We should not look for a unicorn and be disappointed, every ED is a human. A good ED should unify, not split.
Humility is important: Not a person who wanted to lead a top Silicon Valley brand, but someone who could lead from behind.
ED should be approachable
To lead in the way that the people can say, “we did it”
Engage with and listen to the affiliates
Be used to the cooperative model
Should understand theory and practice of motivation
We have many visions, ED should focus on harmony
Has to be familiar with open knowledge, but has to be able to make compromises and work with people who don’t share all our ideas
Katherine was asked what she thought about the process so far. She said that she trusted the affiliates and WMF. Finding the new ED was not about one person, it was about the collective movement. She said that managers should break problems into smaller parts so that experts could work on them. The important thing was to hire awesome people. They would do the work.
Lisa asked the audience if technical experience was important in the ED. Several participants say that the ED does not have to be a technical specialist. More importantly, the ED should have a strong leadership in the technical department and should be able to work with people. The ED should hire good experts and create a good environment for them. The ED should appreciate volunteers and employees. The WMF was not a technical organization, but an educational/knowledge organization that worked with technology to complete their vision. Someone said that WMF shouldn’t need to hire someone with a technology background but rather an NGO background.
Someone asked what the criteria for hiring an ED was last time. Was there a big focus on tech background? Lisa said that there was nobody present from the last search committee, but, in her opinion, there were very strict criteria about open source product experience and NGO people didn’t meet that. Leadership was not prioritized. “Lesson learned”.
Lisa went on to ask what should the process look like. How should the conversations with community and affiliates happen. Two participants said that if they wanted the input of affiliates, then they should be addressed not only as individuals, but as community members.
Lisa asked what kind of input they should ask for. A person said that affiliates should be asked about their experiences and what they find important in ED.
Lisa added that the timeline was not set yet. Kathleen added that the timeline depended not only on the steering committee but on several other things (search area, season etc). Typically searches like this would take around 4-7 months. A participant said that it was good to have a goal but the timeline should not be rigid. The Movement should wait for the right person.
A person asked how long WMF could cope with the interim situation. Lisa answered that, in her opinion, WMF was okay. There was no crisis, and no rush needed. She was concerned with doing it right and getting a consensus. It was more important to immediately fill the interim C-level positions. Some WMF staff present say that they were comfortable with the present situation. A participant said that the foundation has been without effective leadership in the E.D. role for a long time and that the C-level team done a great job on moving things forward. With Katherine, the person, the staff would be in a much better position now than they have been most of the last two years. Katherine was asked how she felt and said that she loved the Foundation and the movement, and would serve as long as needed. A participant asked then ”Why are we looking for an E.D. now then?” A WMF staffer replies that the process was important.
A participant suggests splitting the product/technology part from the WMF (like the education foundation) if there is an interest to have NGO background ED. Does that mean aligning/resolving open strategy questions before looking for an ED? We will never be aligned.