How much documentation should the departing ED leave?
At the Ohio State Bar Association, Mary Amos Augsburger had significant help from her predecessor, Denny Ramey, when she moved from legislative counsel to executive director in July 2013. During a three-week overlap period, Ramey included her in any meetings he had, and he remained available for questions after he left—but he had also worked hard to make it less likely that she’d need to call him.
“He created an excellent transition binder that took me through what to expect in a calendar year,” Augsburger says.
When she became ED of both the Wake County Bar Association and Tenth Judicial District Bar, Whitney D.G. von Haam says, she did not derive much benefit from the one-month overlap period, as she received no formal training and only had about two hours of direct conversation where she could ask questions.
But more time might not have entirely solved the problem, she notes; what caused her the most difficulties were “the things that I hadn’t even known to ask about.”
Von Hamm spent time reading meeting minutes, manuals, and “anything I could get my hands on,” especially regarding procedures for the Tenth District’s judicial elections, which were held three months after von Hamm took over. Von Haam says she lacked much-needed clarity regarding the bar's role in those elections.
“The office was covered with boxes of files,” von Haam recalls. “For the first year and a half, my biggest education was going through those files.”
But not all new EDs take the time to go through carefully prepared documents, Smiley says. Before leaving an ED position he’d held for six years, he recalls, he dictated extensive notes on all the procedures he’d created, relationships he’d developed, and other matters he thought would help his successor. He had all the notes transcribed.
After he left, he periodically got calls from his successor asking how he handled certain matters, and he would refer her to his notes. Eventually, he asked whether she’d ever read them on her own—and she said she had not.
“I think it is important to document fundamental details, such as an emergency succession plan,” Smiley says. “I would let the rest of the programs speak for themselves.”
Smiley and Graham both recommend formalizing the previous executive director’s role of providing answers and information by hiring him or her as a consultant for a certain period after he or she leaves.