Dear Board Chairs,

I invite you to contact me if you’d like to discuss how to proceed with the feedback you received from staff during your recent Executive Director evaluations.  Or, if a prior evaluation caused you to abandon the practice for a few years!  I was an Executive Director for 16 years and an Associate Director for nearly 10 years before that.  Recently, I had the pleasure of working with Executive Directors from throughout the region in a two-day workshop called “The Executive Tool Kit:  Practical Skills to Build Leadership Capacity.” I have also worked with and talked to many executive directors over the years and received very direct input about their experiences with their performance evaluations.

If your staff turnover is not unreasonable for your field of work and your pay scale, and if you are generally satisfied with your organization’s direction and performance, then have your HR Director (or someone with some level of neutrality) collect staff feedback and invite your ED to develop his/her own performance goals regarding it.  These goals would be shared with the Executive Committee (or the committee that conducted the ED evaluation) and reviewed again periodically just like other evaluation goals.  This feedback doesn’t need to go to the board in any level of detail unless there is an ethical, policy, or legal or compliance violation involved.  And, all organizations should have a separate process established for Whistle-Blower and other serious violations that may involve the Executive Director.

Let me clarify…I do believe that it is important for Executive Directors to have access to feedback from their staff.  It keeps us on our toes…and humble!  If possible, however, it’s usually better that this go through a process that is run by the agency’s HR department and is transmitted to the Executive Director without identifying information about individual staff contributors.  When staff feedback goes to the board, unless it is glowing, it usually makes the board feel somewhat anxious and responsible for “fixing” the situation.  While most ED’s (and most supervisors!) have room for improvement, this is not the highest and best use of the board’s time.  It is something that can be handled by the ED and HR.

Executive Directors have to hold hard and firm to certain performance standards and have to generate “performance anxiety” to ensure that the organization is regularly moving forward to best accomplish its mission and serve its clients and constituents.  It is not uncommon for there to be some staff, and even board backlash and/or negativity, when it’s suggested that new standards or procedures need to be implemented so that the organization can operate at full effectiveness in accomplishing its mission.  Hardworking, underpaid, passionate nonprofit staff may or may not appreciate this, however.  This is particularly true if they do not fully understand the Executive Director’s role and responsibilities.  And, the process is even more complicated if the ED recently evaluated the very staff who are now giving feedback on his/her performance.

Too many boards dive into the muddy waters of micro-managing the ED based on how well staff “like” the ED. This undermines the ED and puts the ED in the role of trying to “please” staff. The ED’s responsibility to staff is to have a process for gathering feedback on the organization’s work and direction, to support reasonable structures and policies that promote staff retention, and to advocate for staff compensation and benefits. The ED’s role is not to try to “please” staff, and the annual evaluation process should not be about whether staff “like” the ED. Instead, the board should ask the following:

*Are staff proud to work for the organization? Do they believe the organization achieves positive impact for clients and constituents and meets its mission?

*Are there regular opportunities for staff to give feedback on ideas, issues, and concerns about the organization on a regular basis during the year?

*Is staff turnover in your organization reasonable for your field and pay scale?    

That’s it.

And, separately from the ED’s evaluation, it’s useful to have regular staff feedback processes about the organization which ask: Are there specific policies or structural changes that staff recommend? Have these been discussed in staff team and subsequently in management meetings? Has the Personnel Committee reviewed the final recommendations that came out of these recommendations?

Again,

You are not evaluating if staff “like” the ED.

And, you are not evaluating if staff think the ED is doing a good job (they may or may not understand the ED’s full role…that’s your job as a board!)

The Executive Director evaluation is a hard process for many boards.  And, boards often find the annual ED performance evaluation to be an unpleasant task, which is why it sometimes gets delayed or put off for several years.  Kudos to those courageous boards and organizations which undertake this difficult process every year.

Becky Schueller is a private consultant and trainer who works with organizations, tribes, and local government agencies in North Central and Northwest Minnesota.  Contact Becky at Becky@bemidjiconsulting.com if you’re interested in board development training, strategic planning facilitation, or assistance with the Executive Director evaluation process in your organization.

Check out “Supervision & Performance Appraisal Skills to Help You Keep “The Right People,” on March 15 & 16, 2018 (9:00-4:30 both days) in Bemidji.  Visit www.bemidjiconsulting.com/training for details.  Becky travels throughout Northwest and North Central Minnesota to train.  Contact her at Becky@bemidjiconsulting.com if you’d like to request this training be brought to your organization or tribe.