Our Tips for Conducting an Effective Chief Executive Performance Review

When the topic of chief executive evaluations and performance reviews was discussed during a board retreat we facilitated, a board member said, “we do that, don’t we?” The chief executive answered, “I got a text from the board chair saying that everyone thought I was doing a great job.”

You can imagine how that response impacted the discussion for the rest of the board retreat.

In conversations with chief executives, many will tell us that they have never had a performance review or that it’s been years since their last one. At the other end of the spectrum, some chief executives share that the board wants to do a 360-degree evaluation every year. If a review is completed, we often find that only members of the executive committee engage in the review.

Best practice for chief executive evaluation is that a formal, written review is completed every year and that all board members participate in the process.

Boards must understand that “supporting and evaluating the chief executive” is in the top three board roles and responsibilities per BoardSource. It’s not enough for the board to simply select the chief executive; they must develop a constructive partnership with the leader and that includes thoughtful and timely feedback through regular informal conversations and annual formal reviews.

BoardSource offers a guide for how to conduct a performance review including a timeline for implementation.

“Celebrating accomplishments and sharing honest and candid feedback about opportunities for growth is essential to the success of the executive and the organization… Boards that don’t manage their review processes well are exposed.” — BoardSource

Nonprofit chief executives work tirelessly. They are trying to secure resources, manage teams, engage stakeholders, and achieve impact while balancing the budget. It’s not an easy role, and if they are doing all this without feedback, it makes the job that much harder.

We recommend that organizations choose one month out of the year for reviews:

• First, the board assesses itself through a board self-assessment.

• Second, the board assesses the chief executive.

• Third, the chief executive reviews their direct reports.

• Fourth, senior staff can then assess their direct reports.

When organizations operationalize the work in this way (for instance, every February is evaluation month) it becomes embedded in the culture and is less likely to be left on a long to-do list.

Thank you to all the chief executives who serve our communities well. Thank you, too, to the boards who take their roles and responsibilities seriously and form constructive partnerships with their chief executives.

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