I’m a new CEO — how can I avoid criticizing my predecessor?

A reader writes:

I joined an established nonprofit as CEO about 18 months ago. The former director was accomplished in many areas, giving the agency the appearance of success and stability (programs successful, but not so fiscally). After starting, I learned that the agency was not engaged in fundraising, and its methods for raising income were no longer viable. I also learned the finance staff were only marginally knowledgeable about nonprofit finances, and the board was only marginally knowledgeable about the state of the agency’s financial affairs. Very little infrastructure was in place for an agency with almost a $2M budget.

Long story short, I am in the process of rebuilding our board of directors and our finance team while starting a fundraising program from scratch. The transition year while I have been learning how deep the problems are has been particularly awful. We are now in the process of turning around this huge ship, but it is not easy.

We have a truly great team. They are aware that we are in a financial bind right now and morale is low. Most of our employees are committed to our mission and are working to help us pull through. However, they are having a hard time reconciling how rosy things looked two years ago with where we are right now. How can I frame our situation without throwing the former management and board under the bus?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Performance evaluation left on the office printer
  • Mediocre employee wants me to accommodate her school schedule
  • I’m worried I’ll lose my new job offer during salary verification
  • Can being a podcast guest go in my job application materials?

I’m a new CEO — how can I avoid criticizing my predecessor? was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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