In the last issue of Blue Avocado, we discussed how board evaluations of executive directors (CEOs) are different from all other performance evaluations in the organization. These differences -- including the limited ability of board members to observe the executive -- are also among the reasons why 45% of executives have not had a review in the last year (CompassPoint's Daring to Lead 2011 study). In this article we draw on that discussion and on the submissions of dozens of Blue Avocado readers to propose a process and an evaluation instrument.
(At the end of this article is a link to download the survey form in Word to make it easy for you to modify.)
When we reviewed various the dozens of evaluation instruments sent in by Blue Avocado readers, we found that nearly all of them had these attributes in common:
- Most reviews used a checklist form (rather than narrative)
- Most focused on ED's actions and behaviors (rather than on organizational performance)
- Most relied on input from board members only (rather than include input from others such as staff, funders, clients, art critics, etc.)
Although we feel that evaluations that are narrative, focus on organizational performance and contain elements of a 360 degree evaluation are better ways to evaluate executives, we also realize:
- Without a checklist of some kind, the ED evaluation most likely won't take place
- Evaluation of organizational performance is complex and is more likely to arise from executive evaluation than to occur before it, and
- Input from others in and outside the organization is more appropriately focused on organizational assessment, not as narrowly as on ED evaluation.
Most importantly: despite the fact that board members may have little to go on and not much experience with ED evaluation, it's still important to have the evaluation.
Perhaps the most important thing we learned from executive directors about the value that did emerge from evaluations is that the discussions -- if held in good faith -- result in better-aligned expectations and goals for the organization and for the executive.
As a result, we adapted instruments to:
- Give board members the chance to reflect (and discuss) not only on the executive's performance but on the performance of the board and of the organization
- Spark discussions between the executive and the board (rather than to sum them up)
- Give the executive the opportunity reflect and learn (if so inclined)
- Provide a basis for salary and fire/keep decisions,
- Lead to alignment and clarification of goals and expectations.
A. The board should assign a small group or one person to managing the ED's evaluation. This can be the officers, or a task force created for the job.
B. The ED should go over the process and instrument(s) with that committee prior to the start. This can be as simple as an email or as deep as a group discussion about goals of the evaluation.
C. The board can collect the information from respondents. Rather than compile an "average," it's imporant to report how many board members marked "outstanding," how many marked "needs improvement," and so forth. Having all board members mark "fine" is quite different from half of them marking "outstanding" while another half mark "improvement needed."
D. An executive session of the board (perhaps 1 hour without any staff present) to discuss the survey results and comments in general.
E. Relaying the information to the executive: by the board chair or another assigned member or two.
F. The executive's chance to respond (in person or in writing) to the full board.
G. The review and the response (if there is one) are placed in the executive's personnel file.
Tip: Involve HR to make sure the review takes place. Most supervisors would not complete reviews of their staff if there were not someone from HR reminding and nagging them. An HR or finance staffperson can keep reminding the board officers that a review must be completed for the executive's personnel file and that salary documentation must be provided.
At the end of this article is a link to download the survey form in Word. Please do not use any of these templates "as is." Instead, use them as a basis for forms that are relevant to your organization's circumstances:
What about 360 degree evaluations?
Every few years it's very helful for a board to get a sense of how its executive -- and the organization as a whole -- is experienced by volunteers, visitors, patrons, clients, members, funders, collaborative partners, and others. A 360 degree evaluation takes a good deal of time (not only from the board but from everyone who is asked to give input), and it makes the most sense to use the opportunity not only to learn about the CEO, but about the organization.
Many organizations also have established goals and objectives for the year, such as number of enrollments, visitors to the art gallery, decrease in euthanized animals, and so forth. There may also be data available such as average rating score for workshops conducted by the organization, ticket sales, attendees at annual fundraising lunch, etc.
Measuring organizational performance against such benchmarks is tremendously helpful, as is measuring performance against an updated job description. However, there are limitations to over-relying on such benchmarks:
- There may be external reasons why performance did not meet benchmarks, and those gaps may be more productively addressed in a broader context than the annual review of the CEO.
- A great many organizations do not have such organizational performance benchmarks, nor does the executive have a recently-updated job description. It's necessary to have an evaluation tool that does not require these to be in place.
The role of judgment
No one every has enough information to do a perfectly informed, "objective" evaluation of anyone. If an executive evaluation results in substantive discussion about organizational goals, organizational values about how work is done, and how the board and executive can both do better, then the evaluation "worked."
Our thanks to the many anonymous Blue Avocado readers who contributed to this article, as well as to Nancy Aleck, Kathy Booth, Steven Bowman, Marsha Caplan, Douglas Ford. Krista Glaser, Amy Heydlauff, Lyn Hopper, Trudy Hughes, Jeanette Issa, Shalom Black Lane, Kristen Larsen, Peggy Liuzzi, Dan Lozer, Diane May, Pat Moore. Paul Rosenberger, Erin Ryan, Penelope Sachs, Kate Stephenson, Lynda J. Timbers, Connie Zienkewicz. I hope we didn't miss anyone! Special thanks, too, to reviewers of this article: Trish Tchume (Young Nonprofit Professionals Network), Liz Heath (Sound Nonprofits), Rick Moyers (Meyer Foundation) and Tim Wolfred (CompassPoint Nonprofit Services).
Jan Masaoka is editor of Blue Avocado, and author of the Best of the Board Cafe, available here from Amazon. She has been an executive director and board member and experienced both bad and good evaluations from both ends. And lived to tell the tale.
See also in Blue Avocado: