Q: Could you refer me to an appropriate form or format for executive director evaluation? I am the executive director. While the board says it appreciates the work I have accomplished, I can’t seem to get anyone to formalize this feedback or talk about the raise I was promised as inducement for my accepting the position originally. I submitted a detailed progress report on my first anniversary, enumerating all that I had achieved. This included cutting costs equal to my annual salary, creating procedures where none existed previously and building our brand. I find myself, seven months later, still waiting for my first evaluation. The board recently asked me to find an evaluation form that it can use to facilitate the process. I’m hoping that if I give the directors one, they will finally sit down with me. In doing my research I came across your article, “Evaluating the Top Administrator: A New Approach,” and I thought you might be able to point me in the right direction. Thank you.
A: I can feel your frustration. It’s hard putting your heart and soul into a job, not knowing whether your bosses think you are on the right track, let alone whether or when you’ll get that promised raise. All of us deserve an evaluation. It’s the opportunity to get some pats on the back and learn where we need to grow.
However, I’m not surprised that your board keeps putting off your evaluation. As you read in the article to which you refer above, most people are very uncomfortable judging others. And, in today’s economy, where uncertainty reigns, you can understand why the directors might be less than anxious to provide any evaluation, let alone one they tied to a raise.
Let me start by saying congratulations for all that you have accomplished in a relatively short time. It is impressive and I’m sure the directors that verbally express appreciation are sincere. I must ask, though, whether these goals were the board’s priorities or yours. The fact that the board as a whole has not rushed to praise you leads me to suspect that these were your priorities and the board doesn’t know how to say it wishes you had done other things instead. I further suspect that the directors are hoping you will present them with an evaluation form that lists a plethora of typical tasks that they can then say you ignored as you forged ahead following the beat of your own drummer.
I hope I am wrong. The only way to avoid this in the future is to sit down together with your board and create a list of specific goals that are tied directly to the organization’s vision and for which you will be responsible. Each goal should be measurable and have a deadline for achievement. Each should specify whether the accomplishment is expected or whether it would be seen as exceeding expectations. Any promises of a raise should be in writing and tied to these goals. (Note – in these times do not be surprised or upset if the board doesn’t wish to commit to any sort of raise or bonus. Most likely, it is just being prudent with the organization’s funds.) I would also suggest that you put dates on the calendar right now for a quarterly or six-month review. The dates are more likely to be honored if they are already scheduled. If you wait until the evaluations are due it is too easy to let day to day crises prevent you from making the necessary time.
Of course none of this addresses the specific concerns you raised. I would go to your board chair and ask for a date within the next two weeks that you can put on your calendar for an evaluation. I would remind him or her that evaluations are a “best practice.” They are more critical today than ever before because they will ensure that you and the board are of a single mind moving forward in these chaotic times. You are holding your staff accountable for meeting the needs of the community and you expect to be held accountable as well. You are always looking to grow and you know that you can benefit from the board’s observations. You count on the board’s ability to share the community’s perceptions of you and the organization, and an evaluation provides the perfect opportunity to get these perceptions out on the table…. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. The one thing I would not mention is that you are looking forward to discussing money. Get the evaluation first. You can always speak about money later.
When you approach the board chair I would acknowledge that you were asked to find an evaluation form that the board can use. I would say, however, that the more you researched the more you heard that off-the-shelf evaluation tools prove inadequate because no two executive director/CEO jobs are the same and check boxes or Likert scales fail to adequately reflect either the job that is being done or that needs to be done in the future. You can refer him or her to the article you found and referenced in your question. Suggest that you are willing to sit down with a small group of directors to help them determine the skills and characteristics that they see as important for the executive director of your organization to have at this time in history and at this point in the organization’s march toward vision accomplishment. You might also say that you have given the subject some thought and are prepared to help the board committee come up with something mutually satisfactory in a single meeting. (Remember, you don’t want this process to drag on any longer.) Of course, that means you must do your homework and be prepared to come with your ideas fully formed!