Turning Over the Reins

This article was suggested by Veliaf of Imperial Guardsmen.

I currently run a small guild in WoW, and have done for several years, but in the near future I’m going to be leaving WoW for a few months (probably until Cataclysm is released). Obviously this means I’ll be stepping down as GM, and this leads to questions such as who is going to take over, in what capacity, and so on.

We (that is, myself and my three officers) of course want to make the transition as smooth as possible to avoid disruption to the guild.

Managing the transition from one guild leader to another can be quite stressful.  As much as you may try to make the guild about the members, the purpose and the policies, some of your members will always put you on a pedestal and think that you stepping down means the end of the guild as they know it.

The good news: you’re thinking about it ahead of time.  The more preparation you put into this, the smoother things will go.  Many times a GM disappears without notice, catching the officers by surprise and leaving them without some of the critical privileges they need to keep the guild moving forward.

Veliaf posed some specific questions, which in and of themselves could fill an article.  But this is a huge topic to cover properly, because in order to manage the transition from one guild leader to another, you have to have an appreciation for everything that a guild leader does.  While anyone can can give a general description of what a guild leader does, it would probably be limited to the visible in-game and figurehead aspects of the position.  Guild leaders tend to do much more behinds the scenes.

To give this it’s proper due, I’m going to split this into three medium-sized articles rather than two very large ones.  First, we’ll talk about how to manage the transition itself – choosing a new guild leader, communicating the change to your members and keeping the guild on an even keel throughout the process.  Next, we’ll go a bit more in depth as to all the things that a guild leader does.  This will also serve as a laundry list of tasks that may be suitable for delegation rather than transferring them all onto one person.  Finally, I’ll talk about the practical steps you can take to prepare for your temporary or permanent departure from a guild so that you can quickly transfer leadership and deal with real life.

Crunch Time or No?

Your immediate goals for handling a leadership transfer are going to be very different depending on whether the change is planned or not.  If the current GM has decided that they need to move on and you have even a couple of weeks to make that happen, your job is going to be much much easier.

If your current GM just logged on to transfer leadership and gquit, you need to keep the guild operating smoothly while you plan out the transition.  The worst possible situation is that your GM has disappeared or announced their departure but hasn’t transferred leadership.

If you find yourself with an AWOL guild leader, you can petition a GM to transfer leadership to an officer after the account has been inactive for 30 days.  I believe that the account needs to have no login activity, so in the rare case that the GM has moved to a new realm but is actively playing, there may not be much you can do.  Until you can get control of the guild leader rank, what you can do will be limited.

I’ll go over the various things to deal with in the sections below.  If you’re dealing with an unexpected GM change, you will probably be most interested in:

If the move is planned, then you’ll find more relevant advice in:

I can only give each of these a short treatment, so if there is a topic that you’d think would be a good standalone article, please leave a comment.

Steady As She Goes

In the days following a guild leader’s departure or disappearance, the remaining officers may be tempted to start making immediate changes in the way the guild is run.  I would strongly advise against this, unless the guild is so dysfunctional that you can’t even put together simple events.  Members need time to adjust to the change in leadership, and throwing policy changes into the mix increases the chances that members will flock elsewhere rather than stick it out.  After all, if everything about the guild is changing, it’s not all that different from applying to a new guild, is it?

If you have a raiding schedule, keep it.  If you have a loot system that is working (even poorly), keep it.  Don’t cancel raids, don’t change progression goals (unless your roster has been thrown in to turmoil and the goals are no longer realistic).  If that’s the case, set a couple of achievable short-term goals to encourage attendance.  What you’re trying to avoid is people going AFK while things are in limbo.

Make sure you keep communications flowing with members.  Make sure that your MOTD and guild info panel has current info in it, and directs people to a forum post to explain what’s going on so that people who log on in the middle of the night two weeks from now have some clue as to the state of things.

There may be a few things that will have to be changed immediately, but only if you’ve lost access to the old ones.  If your guild leader packed up and took the Ventrilo server or web site passwords with them, you may need to set up new ones, but I would recommend against building something massive at first.  All you really need is a place for out-of-game discussion to take place and possibly something to manage your loot.  You can set up a quick site on one of the many guild hosting providers, then build a proper guild site once things have calmed down a bit.

Selecting a New Leader

Although you can use a council style of leadership, where no one person has absolute control, the design of WoW forces you to give one person the keys to the kingdom, as it were.

I’m not a fan of council-style leadership.  Unless executed perfectly by very trustworthy people, it can easily lead to infighting.  Since the council cannot be enforced in-game, there is aways a possibility that whoever holds the top rank in the guild could go rogue.

If the guild move was planned, the leader may have chosen a “guild leader heir”, someone who has been learning the ins and outs of guild leadership.  Even without such preparation, the outgoing GM may hand-pick a successor.  This can be a delicate subject, depending on the nature of the departure and the possibility of the guild leader coming back.  A guild leader might be tempted to turn over the role to a real-life friend, without regard for that person’s suitability.  Be wary if the person selected is someone who would normally be relegated to a junior officer role.

The former leader’s pick may be perfectly sensible.  They may choose someone who they feel will continue to run the guild in the way that they have been.  This is fine, so long as the former guild leader’s style was generally well received by the members.  Not all guild leader transitions are flowery events.  There may be some bad blood that suggests the way the guild has been run isn’t the way it should continue to be run.

If you have to pick someone in a hurry, I suggest choosing the trustworthy officer who wants the job least.  Reconfigure permissions so that this person is a figurehead only, and that the officers have more or less the same level of control.  Even better, have this person roll a new alt, make that into a “GM bot”, and encourage them not to log onto it – continue to use their officer account for all day-to-day business.  This will give you some time to pick a replacement.

How then to go about that?  First, find out who is interested in the position.  If nobody is, consider opening up the position to long-term members.  I know some guilds frown upon promotion that jumps over the officer rank, but if your officers aren’t willing to step up to the plate, will they really make a good GM if forced into the position?  You may find you have a member with GM experience who will do a better job.

If more than one person is interested, figure out what the differences in vision are.  If you can’t reconcile and come to an agreement, it’s time to open it up to the members.  Have each candidate state what they feel they can do for the guild.  What do they think is wrong, what do they think is right, and what would they change?  Then let the members decide.

If the losing candidates aren’t able to accept the member’s choice, you may be in a tough position.  You don’t want to move forward with an officer corps that is holding resentments.  It may be necessary for the candidates to agree that whoever wins becomes GM, and the losing candidate returns to the most senior member rank.  Then the new GM can establish a new set of officers.  This is a considerable shakeup though, and should be avoided except in the case where keeping all of the old officers will lead to more instability.

Guidance Before Retirement

If the transition is planned, it’s a good idea for the changeover to take place a bit in advance.  Once the selection and announcement to the members has taken place, give the new leader the official role.  This allows the former GM to provide some level of support and guidance while making it clear that the new leader is formally in charge.

The old GM should do none of the daily tasks – all these should be handed over to the new leader.  If the former GM notices that something isn’t being taken care of, they should mention it; perhaps the task was missed in the handover.

If members continue to ask questions or make requests of the former GM during the handover period, they should be gently reminded to ask the new guild leader.  The new leader has an important part to play in making this happen though, as they need to be available and approachable to members, perhaps more so now than once everything has settled down.

Handing Over The Keys

Part of the guidance the former GM should provide is access to all of the bits and bobs that make the guild function.  I’ll go into these in more detail in part 2, and suggest ways that transferring them can be less work in part 3.  Even the old guild leader may not remember all the little things they’ve set up in the past, so be sure to spend some time thinking abou this.

At the very least, this includes things like

At various points in this part of the handover, you’re going to find that virtual life overlaps and collides with real life.  It’s all well and good to give the new leader the ventrilo admin password, but if that gives them access to the billing portion of the provider’s website, personal details that have nothing to do with running the guild may be exposed.

In part 3 of this series I’ll talk about how to prevent this from being necessary, but in the meantime you may need to set up new billing accounts in the name of the new leader.  This will probably involve a voice call to the provider’s customer services.  I’ve only had to do it once, but the provider was more than happy to move the Ventrilo service from one billing acccount to another rather than lose the business entirely.

Replacing What’s Been Lost

If there hasn’t been any planning and your new guild leader was hastily promoted by the old one or by Blizzard, you won’t have the luxury of getting all the keys and passwords described above.  What’s worse, you may not even know the full list of things the old GM did or had access to.  Use part 2 as a checklist of things to get access to.  In many cases, you’re going to find that companies won’t turn over services without the approval of the current account holder, so replacement services will be required rather than getting access to the existing ones.

Don’t try to replace everything at once.  Even if your providers won’t transfer control of the accounts to you, they may be able to tell you when the current contract runs out.  Order things by how soon they’ll be cut off and focus on keeping the important ones going.

Preparing for a Return

If the guild leader is taking an extended break rather than leaving for good, you may not want to formally transfer the out-of-game elements to the new leader.  Everything in-game should be moved over as if the switch were permanent.

Veliaf raised an important point about the new members you recruit during the GM’s absence: won’t it be strange for them to have a new GM just appear out of nowhere one day?  Indeed it will.  You can stave this off by making sure that your members have access to the current state of the guild with regards to leadership.  You charter, “about the guild” pages on the website, and guild information panel should all reflect that the GM is on a temporary break and that they’ll be returning at a specific time.

The welcome letter you send new members should also include these details.  What’s that?  You don’t send a basic welcome letter to new members both in-game and on your forums?  Start doing that.  In game, send a link to the forums.  On the forums, provide quick links to important posts and policies, tell them what things they can expect from the trial period, and make sure they understand about the GM issue.

If your guild prefers the personal touch, where the above details are communicated directly by a recruiting officer, make sure that they explain the details to new members.

If the current GM wants to leave but doesn’t know when they’ll return, I recommend doing a full cut over.  Assume they’re leaving forever, and agree that the GM spot is no longer theirs.  When they come back, they can get an officer position, but it’s not fair to the members to know that leadership is going to change “sometime when the old GM gets around to it”.

Changing Things Up

Don’t make any radical changes in the first month – just let everyone get used to the change.  Even then, take it slow.  Just because you didn’t agree with some of the old guild leader’s policies doesn’t mean that your vision is 100% right.  The best approach is to observe members, talk to them, get some idea as to what they think needs to be changed.

An anonymous forum is a great tool if you website offers this feature – ask people to post their gripes, then look for patterns.  If you don’t get many suggestions, get together with the officers and list the things you think should be changed, then bounce that off the members.  You can’t change everything in the short term, and arguably you shouldn’t – if you are opposed to everything the your guild is about, you should be starting a new one, not trying to imprint your ideas on an existing one.

Let the members pick from your list, then put solid effort into fixing the top three or five things.  If that goes well, you can look at the next tier of things to fix, and so on.  Better to be focused than spread too thin.

The Golden Parachute

Another question Veliaf posed was this:

If the GM isn’t quitting the game, but merely leaving to move on, what happens with regards to things they’ve stored in the bank, etc? What if they feel they deserve ‘compensation’ before they go?

Personally, I’ve never thought of anything in the guild bank as belonging to the guild leader.  They belong to the guild.  This should be true of any member – if you kick someone, do you go through the bank logs and refund them everything they contributed since joining?  Probably not.

In the absence of a policy stating otherwise, anything deposited into the bank becomes the guild’s property, owned jointly by the members.  If someone is leaving (regardless of rank) and asks for donations back, the request should be rejected.  The problem is that if leadership hasn’t been transferred, or even if it has and the former GM has sufficiently high bank privileges, they may just choose to take what they think is theirs.

This isn’t really a guild leadership transfer issue, just plain theft.  Nobody should use a guild’s bank as if it were their personal bank alt, even the leadership.  If you really need more space than a mule character can provide, go create a vanity guild.  It’s not that expensive, takes a couple of hours at the most, and keeps ownership cleanly separated.

If the leader wanted to retain some claim to their contributions, they should have written that into policy, and had some way of tracking donations over time so that an accurate withdrawal could be made.  I doubt that you’ll find many guilds with such a policy though, as it runs contrary to the general understanding of what the guild bank is for.

It may be true that some guild leaders contribute more to the guild than other members, or that they prime the bank with a few thousand of their own gold.  If that was to be repaid in the future, it should have been part of the guild charter, not demanded as the person is leaving.

If you do end up in a situation where the former GM demands their contributions back, consider doing a guild bank liquidation, starting over with a clean bank when the new guild leader takes over.  This may still be problematic – if the guild leader is making these demands in the first place, they may not be happy doing a liquidation based upon effort.  If you choose some other metric to use for distribution (like contributions), then you’re just caving to an unreasonable demand and making more work for yourself.

In the next article, I’ll get into more detail about the various things that guild leaders do that members may not even be aware of.

Until Next Time

This is part 1 of an article series: Jump to Part 2 or Part 3