Navigating the transition from a corporate to not-for-profit organisation can often be quite a learning curve.
For Meredith Scott, coming from a big four accountancy firm, Ernst & Young, into the CEO position for a leading not-for-profit, Opportunity International Australia, the biggest challenge was adapting and growing her leadership style to suit different teams and stakeholders.
She shared her story with us and the lessons she learnt along the way, at one of our events in 2019.
Coming from the Commercial sector to the For-Purpose sector may have seemed pretty daunting. What did you do in the first couple of weeks to establish yourself?
For me, it was important to sit down with the staff and get to know them and, at the same time, understand the business, its culture and how it operated.
For me, it was really about asking lots of questions and getting myself across how the staff do things, what they are passionate about, what drives them, what they enjoy and don’t enjoy about their roles, how they got to where they were and what they wanted to do going forward.
It was important for me to get to know everyone and ensure that we were all on the same page and working towards the same goals.
From a business and operational perspective, I took the time to go through the financials, sat down with HR to get my head around the people and the culture, established a good rapport with the Board, and took the time to familiarise myself with the communities we worked with, including both the legal and local requirements we had to work with.
What was the biggest challenge in the transition?
For me, it was really about understanding the different passions, drivers and motivations of everyone. There is a difference in thinking and how people do things in the not-for-profit/for-purpose space versus a very corporate environment. I really wanted to go in and make a difference and so I really had to challenge people’s thinking about trying new things and not always just doing what’s worked in the past.
How did you overcome those challenges?
I was very strong in my convictions and I challenged everyone, every day to think differently and to focus on the issues that are important. I was respectful of everyone’s opinions, ensuring that we were all working collaboratively and that everyone felt they had a voice.
For me, it was about working smarter and more efficiently, so that we could have the most impact.
You’ve now been in the role for 18 months. Do you feel that you have established yourself in the sector?
Every day is a new learning experience, full of challenges, opportunities and possibilities. I am forging new connections, knowledge and understanding of the sector. I work hard every day to engage all our key stakeholders and work closely with the Australian Government to ensure that we are having the most positive impact for our communities.
Is there anything you miss about working in the Commercial sector?
I would say resourcing! The first challenge for us was finding a new premises. I was involved in every step of the way from looking at potential offices to even threading the phone wires! When I worked in Ernst & Young, there was support and infrastructure – there were resources and people to help.
What do you love about your new role?
I am passionate about helping other people and I love that I can make a positive impact on people’s lives every day. I love spending time with the women we help and working with them so they can establish a better life for themselves and their children.
If you had your transition time over again, what would you have done differently?
To realise that I can’t solve everything straight away and understand that things take time in the not-for-profit space – we’re not going to make a difference overnight.
I would also take more time to ensure everyone feels valued and engaged every step of the way.