Get the most out of performance reviews

Let’s be honest.  Most association board members, executives and staff do not look forward to performance reviews.  Most executives and board members I’ve spoken to about performance reviews are not satisfied with the methods in place and the person being reviewed feels like there’s a surprise waiting for them.  And, the surprise is usually an unpleasant one.

This post outlines a performance review tool L&M has used for more years than I can remember – always with positive and constructive results.

Step 1 – Prepare

The first rule to a constructive performance review is: “no surprises.”  At the beginning of the performance review period the expectations for responsibilities should be made clear and discussed with the individual.  But let’s focus on the chief staff executive’s performance review, because chief staff executives and board members are sometimes confused over the actual content of the review.

I’d also like be very clear that I’m referring to a true “executive level”, senior person, not an administrator with the title of executive director.  Specifically, I’m referring to an individual who not only knows the role of chief staff executive but may also understand the board member roles and responsibilities better than their board members, yet the executive is still accountable to the governing board.

There are two sources of content for a chief staff executive’s performance review.  First, is the approved position description for the job.  If it hasn’t been updated in recent years, it’s worth reviewing the existing description and updating it.  In fact, it’s a good practice to review all position descriptions at each annual review.  Every two or three years it’s a good practice to engage an outside HR specialist to assist with such reviews.  The second source of content is the organization’s strategic plan, and the high-level goals and objectives set forth in that plan.  If the organization has aspirational goals, and organization’s chief staff executive is not considered responsible for achieving the strategic goals and objectives, then the board better reevaluate some fundamental assumptions about its operations.  Or, the association could simply be a transaction-based organization or a club of insiders, in which case a task-focused performance review may be sufficient.

Expectations about outcomes

The central element of the following outcomes-based evaluation is that it’s based on observable behavior and outcomes.  It is also an assessment of the evaluator’s expectations.  To keep this as simple and focused as possible, we use three assessments:

★★★  Meets and sometimes exceeds expectations

★★  Consistently meets expectations

★  Sometimes does not meet expectations

In the case of a 3-star or a 1-star rating, a comment must be provided that sites at least one specific instance that supports the assessment.  This is critical because it leads to clarifying any misunderstandings around interpretations of the expectations for this critical role for your association.


To illustrate the performance method described above, two examples follow below.  The first is an assessment of position responsibilities from the job description.  Five responsibilities were taken from Kenneth Dayton’s timeless article “Governance is Governance”  (see pg. 5 of article, position description of CEO/President).

Example 1: Responsibilities Rating Comments
With the chair of the board, develop agendas for meetings, so that the board can fulfill all its responsibilities effectively. Develop an annual calendar to cover all crucial issues in a timely fashion. ★★  
See that the board and the chair are kept fully informed of the condition of the institution on all important factors influencing it. ★★  
Be responsible for the institution’s consistent achievement of its mission and financial objectives. ★★★ Introduced comprehensive new member benefits program based on member survey that was more than expected in terms of scope and member satisfaction
See that there is an effective management team with provisions for success. ★★  
Formulate and administer all major policies. Late reviewing and updating Social Media policies
Example 2: Strategic Goals Rating Comments
Continue to host industry summit and increase and improve engagement of other allied organizations (i.e., increase frequency of meetings, engagement and collaborative projects). ★★★ The summit continues to be of interest across industry stakeholders with plans to increase meeting frequency next year, much to our surprise!
Establish an annual Association Advocacy Agenda and use to guide support for lobbying efforts with other Industry stakeholders. ★★  
Reconstitute Membership Committee by Fall-20XX to develop a 3-year work plan focused on net 50% increase in overall membership by conclusion of 20YY. ★★★ New Membership Committee formed and met ahead of schedule!
Develop an annual comprehensive plan to support each of the other goals; plan should take into account: marketing, communications (internal and external) that reinforces the Association’s brand. Framework was completed by Marketing Committee, but other committees not hitting their deadlines.

Performance reviews should not be painful experiences for the reviewer or the reviewed. On the contrary, all parties should look forward to recognizing achievements and identifying opportunities for improvement and growth. Focusing on met and unmet expectations on a level playing field can help develop clear communications and level-setting for individual and organizational success.

Posted in Management, Videos.

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