How Acting Heads – Should Keep Heads Down, Values High And Cultures Equipped.
When change occurs in an organisation, especially in leadership, a high level of uncertainty often arises. This was the case when the CEO of Tomorrow Trust, James Donald, announced his resignation, effective from the end of May 2021. This left everyone – employees, partners and trustees – uncertain about how they would proceed and what changes would occur under new leadership.
Currently, Taryn Rae, Head of Business Development at Tomorrow Trust, is in the acting role of General Manager for a 90-day period until the organisation finds a replacement for Donald. As acting General Manager, her priority has been to ensure that Tomorrow Trust employees feel secure in their roles so that they can continue to function and deliver at a level of excellence, regardless of the changes currently underway.
She has tackled the acting leadership role by building on the company culture cultivated by Donald, reinforcing the importance of accountability, timely delivery and a good work ethic. Simultaneously, a culture of soft skills is being emphasised in the organisation, which involves having courageous and honest conversations with each other, celebrating each other’s successes, assuming the best in one’s colleagues and teammates, and valuing each employee as an individual.
‘We have a strong board presence, senior management team, and general team that drives our business strategy forward. Our strategy outlines world-class programmes with proven effectiveness, increasing our numbers and the scale of our impact, and advocating for holistic education for orphaned and vulnerable children.
‘As an organisation, we are unpacking the business strategy we have employed over the past three years, concluding in December 2021. This strategy was framed through the leadership of Donald, and although there is nothing that we currently want to change, we want to elevate our current strategy to remain relevant.’
Being in the position of acting General Manager has proven insightful for Rae, as she has had to change her perspective to answer difficult questions that pertain to Tomorrow Trust’s direction as an organisation, and how growth may manifest in coming years, especially given the Covid-19 pandemic. Accounting for this, and for the changes that are currently taking place in the organisation, Rae highlights the risk of organisations becoming irrelevant when leadership changes occur. To remain relevant, she insists that Tomorrow Trust will need both to build their strengths and examine their weaknesses over the past three years to shed light on where the organisation has fallen short.
Thus, in this interim period of leadership change, Tomorrow Trust has evaluated the work that they have done over the past three years, assessing all their programmes to ensure they are still world class. They have brainstormed various ways to increase the number of people they reach and initiated a greater presence on various platforms, through which they advocate for holistic education. Rae is confident that Tomorrow Trust staff will be able to give suggestions to the new CEO and board members on how well the organisation has performed thus far, where the organisation is headed, and how to mitigate potential risks that may occur on the journey forward.
‘As the Head of Business Development, I currently manage roughly 80% of Tomorrow Trust’s partner relationships. Leadership changes have not drastically affected my ability to maintain them. However, the main priority in the organisation right now is to ensure that our current business strategy continues – a strategy geared towards long-term growth.
‘The person who is appointed to the CEO role will have the responsibility of ensuring that the organisation remains well known in the NGO space, so that Tomorrow Trust continues to connect with people and make a bigger difference in South Africa. People invest in people, and there is no doubt that Donald had good relationships with our partners.’