Non-profit boards need to stop crying about evaluating their CEO

CEO review3Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “There Is No Crying In Performance Reviews!,” John talks about how year-end evaluations are difficult exercises not only for the person being evaluated but also the person doing the evaluation. He goes on to talk about the reasons for the anxiety, shares a few difficult stories, and finishes with how he has made a few changes to make the process easier.

If you are responsible for evaluating employees, you should click-through and read this post.

However, when I read this post, my mind was in a very different place.

I had been working with a number of different non-profit boards and facilitating trainings on board roles and responsibilities. I usually administer a simple little pre-test a few days before conducting the training. Not only does it help me get a sense of the board’s collective mindset, but I share the aggregated results with the board prior to launching into the curriculum. I’ve found that doing so gets participants’ attention and creates a greater sense of focus.

CEO review1One of the pre-test questions that tends to trip people up is whether or not the board has a responsibility to “oversee the CEO“. Believe it or not, it isn’t uncommon for one-quarter to one-third of board volunteers to say “NO“.

I always find it funny because the previous question on the pre-test asks if they are responsible for “hiring the CEO,” and almost everyone agrees that is a basic non-profit board responsibility.

So, where is the disconnect?

If you are responsible for hiring someone, then doesn’t it follow that in most situations you’re responsible for developing their annual performance plan AND evaluating their performance?

After re-reading John’s post this morning, I think the answer is simple.

The collective board and its individual members feel anxiety about evaluating its one and only employee. As John describes in this post, it is the same feelings that individual managers experience. 

Understanding where that anxiety comes from is a step in the right direction of solving the problem. The following are just a few of the reasons cited by John:

  • not being organized;
  • not doing your homework;
  • not knowing the jobs being assessed, or how they’ve really done them; and
  • not having detailed examples to cite in defense of critical feedback.

If your non-profit organization is going to thrive, then you and your board need to GET OVER IT. As John points out in the title of his post, “There Is No Crying In Performance Reviews!

CEO review2So, maybe you don’t know where to start?

Well, I think some of the answers can be found the aforementioned bullet points (aka the causes of this avoidance behavior). Here are a few of my suggestions:

  1. Make it a board policy that an annual performance plan, which is rooted in your strategic plan, is developed and issued to the executive director by the start of the year. Make sure this policy speaks clearly to the issue of who is responsible for making this happen and how they engage the board in the process.
  2. Develop a 360-degree feedback process and get input from all of the executive director’s direct reports.
  3. Make it a practice to ask the executive director to self-evaluate themselves as part of the process.

These are just a few suggestions. The following are even better resources that I found online:

Oh yeah! One more thing . . . once you start down this path, take great care not to fall into some common pitfalls. What would those pitfalls be? Well, the following are just a few according to a document I recently found in an old board governance manual:

  • Avoid falling prey to the “halo effect“. (aka the CEO can do no wrong mentality)
  • Keep personality out of the process . . . this is only about performance. (e.g. Just the faces, ma’am)
  • Being too lenient (e.g. the glass is half full)
  • Being too critical (e.g. the glass is half empty)
  • Being clouded by recent events (e.g. letting a crisis or recent victory override an entire year’s worth of performance)

In my experience, the vast number of non-profit boards don’t do a good job with managing and evaluating their executive director’s performance. This needs to stop because “that which gets measures . . . gets DONE“. In other words, if you want your agency to succeed, you need to stop crying and figure it out!

How does your agency evaluate its executive director? What have you done that takes some of the anxiety out of the process? How do you keep from falling into common pitfalls? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

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