Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

If You Build It, They Will Stay: Leadership Development in the American Cancer Society

Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

If You Build It, They Will Stay: Leadership Development in the American Cancer Society

Article excerpt

Abstract

One of the most critical challenges for any organization is finding, recruiting, and retaining talented individuals. Three years ago, the American Cancer Society, Eastern Division, initiated a Leadership Development Program. The outcome has been extremely valuable to both the organization and the individual participants.

The following is a presentation of how this talent management program functioned, what the organization and participants gained, and how the Society is developing the program for the future.

Globalization. Technology. Disasters

The challenges facing non-profit organizations are enormous. One of the most critical challenges for any organization is finding, recruiting, and retaining talented individuals. In the next decade, a diminishing pool of qualified candidates for key positions will make talent management even more essential to business success. According to a Manpower survey released in October of 2006, which gathered data from companies representing 33,000 employers from 23 countries, companies worldwide are having trouble filling positions. Forty percent of the employers surveyed reported problems in filling positions because of a lack of talent in their labor markets. As early as 1997 the McKinsey company coined the term "war for talent" to describe the projected challenges facing employers in finding skilled candidates.

Not-for-profit organizations like the American Cancer Society have often served as "entry level" organizations for people just entering the job force or re-entering after a significant break in employment. Nonprofits by their nature provide the chance for gaining competence in many different skill areas such as: fundraising, community organization, project management and relationship building. They also tend to pay somewhat lower salaries than the public sector. Since the skills learned in the non-profit arena are highly marketable in both nonprofit and for profit businesses, turnover has always been a challenge for the American Cancer Society (ACS). While many corporations are able to compensate for lack of local candidates by recruiting from other countries, as a community-based organization, the American Cancer Society does not enjoy that option. As the number of skilled candidates goes down, successful ACS staff members are often recruited away by local companies who recognize the competencies of those staff and are able to offer more attractive compensation packages.

In the 1990's the ACS nationwide embarked on a reorganization plan to prepare for the challenges of the new century. The 57 Divisions, representing the 50 states and several of the larger metropolitan areas, were gradually merged into fewer, larger entities representing multiple states with similar or complementary characteristics. In 1999, New York City and the independent Divisions in the boroughs of Queens, Long Island and Westchester merged with New York State and New Jersey into one entity now known as the Eastern Division of the American Cancer Society. This merger, as had the others in the rest of the US during this time, served to consolidate support departments like human resources, information technology and the mission-related programs of advocacy, patient and family services and cancer control. The consolidation provided opportunities for economies of scale. It also gathered fewer, more highly skilled staff to provide organizational leadership, making it possible to add additional positions at the entry and middle-level of staffing. The downside was that there were fewer executive level positions to which a skilled mid-level staff member could aspire. Temporary, though significant economic challenges, which hit the region in the early years of the new century, also impacted staffing and turnover in this Division.

Noting through exit interview data that a majority of the regretted losses of skilled staff members were due to offers of more lucrative or higher-level positions in other not for profits or in the private sector, the Eastern Division, in 2003 initiated a Leadership Development Program, initially called a "Talent Pool. …

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