Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Executive Director Assessments

Kelly Rietow is a Principal at ROO Solutions, a human resources and organizational development consulting firm, with nearly 20 years of human resources experience. She can be reached at or

The New Year bring new budgets, new goals, and of course, the dreaded performance appraisal. Managers assess employees and directors assess staff. But how does the Board of Directors assess the Executive Director’s performance?

Establishing expectations, evaluating performance and goal setting for employees is relatively straight-forward. They are responsible for raising $x dollars, retaining x% of donors, of perhaps processing payroll checks accurately and on time. Managers have individual responsibilities but also lead a team and manage a function. We can evaluate department success, both objectively (dollars raised, timeliness met, etc.) and subjectively (team performance, working with other departments.)

The more removed a person becomes from the “day to day” operations, the more challenging it is to clearly identify performance factors. This becomes particularly challenging when an Executive Director wears multiple hats in an organization. Boards may find it helpful to consider the differences in focus and time horizon for the Executive Director role, in order to balance focus on internal vs. external performance factors, fund development balanced with staff development, and other relevant factors.

Creating an evaluation format and process that focuses on a few key accountabilities can help the board, and the Executive Director, better understand how to allocate time, what types of
goals to establish, and help everyone understand what “good” looks like. A suggested framework could include:
  • Organizational Leadership: How well the Director leads the organization, ensures fiscal responsibility, represents the organization in the community and implements the strategic plan.
  • Functional Leadership: How well the person manages department-level responsibilities. For example, a Director who is also in charge of Finance would address items such as timely and accurate financial reporting to the board, ensuring accounting practices are conducted in accordance with GAAP principles, and establishing clear department roles and process.
  • People Leadership: How well the person communicates and engages staff. The leader is accountable to hire and develop employees, clearly sets expectations, manager performance, and both provides and accepts feedback.
  • Ensures the Future: How well the person sets forth the vision and mission to staff and community, and effectiveness in implementing the strategic plan. This includes working with the Board of Directors, aligning employees with the mission and their role in achieving it, and engaging the community in the mission.
  • Core Values: This focuses attention on how well the Executive Director holds herself, and others, to living the organization’s core values. Criteria may include making decisions in the best interest of the organization and the population it serves, integrity, and creating lasting change.

Similarly, development planning should focus on the broad range and scope of the Executive
Director’s role. Consider establishing three goals per year, including:
  • Enhancing Leadership Effectiveness
  • Improving organizational or functional performance
  • Enhancing organization capability through developing others
Focusing on a few key themes can begin a productive dialogue between the board and the Executive Director, and set the stage for future performance expectations.

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