The executive director’s primary responsibilities are to direct the organization’s financial health and to drive overall progress and success. The role of the executive director is integral towards fulfilling the mission of the organization. The board of directors sets the standards that outline the responsibilities and expectations of the executive director and the board measures the executive director’s performance against the same standards. Since the executive director’s performance is directly linked to the organization’s performance, some boards incorporate the executive director’s annual evaluation into the annual review of the organization’s performance and goal setting.
Some board members may be discouraged by the challenge of evaluating the executive director, as well as the encroachment on their time. According to a 2011 study by Compass, called Daring to Lead, about 45% of executive directors had not been evaluated within the last year. Respondents who didn’t perform executive director reviews explained that it was difficult to evaluate the executive director. Their reasons included having difficulty because the position was different than all other positions, and because it was difficult to observe the executive director directly at work.
Ultimately, in consistently conducting the executive director evaluation, the negatives outweigh any risks to the organization. Annual executive director evaluations save the board time if they need to replace the executive director due to substandard performance. The organization’s bylaws should outline which committee is responsible for evaluating the executive director and the process that the committee uses to complete the evaluation.
Establishing an Evaluation Process
There are three icons of a strong executive director evaluation:
The evaluation identifies and critiques poor performance to ensure strong and effective leadership. Boards should discuss and carefully consider the organization’s needs and direction in forming the evaluation process for the executive director. While it’s important to evaluate the executive director annually, feedback regarding the executive director’s performance should be continual.
The board should form a separate evaluation committee for the express purpose of evaluating the executive director. The evaluation committee reviews the evaluation process, gathers information to evaluate the executive director’s performance, and makes recommendations to the full board.
Gathering Information for the Annual Executive Director Evaluation
As part of the evaluation process, the executive director should self-evaluate. The evaluation committee should present the director with a self-evaluation form, along with a designated timeframe for submitting it. The evaluation committee members will also seek input from other board members. Board members largely contribute information about the executive director’s actions and behaviors. Board members may consider allowing relevant stakeholders the opportunity to offer input on the executive director evaluation process as their input will likely be presented in light of organizational performance.
Information gathering may include informal verbal discussions, a written survey, or a combination of the verbal and written responses. Responses can be rated “satisfactory,” “non-satisfactory,” or “needs improvement.” Another way of rating is to use a grading scale from 1-5.
Assessments should include a review of what the executive director achieved, how objectives were achieved, and whether the director modeled the core values of the organization.
The board should form the criteria for evaluating the executive director around the needs and goals of the organization. Areas to assess may include:
- Assessing program development and delivery
- Administration and human resource development-staffing, training, employee growth
- Community relations and relationship building-cultivating strategic relationships, raising visibility
- Financial management-identifying threats and opportunities
- Legal compliance
- Core values-persistence, continuous improvement, decency, humility, integrity
- Understanding of and commitment to the organization’s mission
Preparing and Presenting the Evaluation Results
Once the assessments and pertinent information have been gathered, the evaluation committee reviews the executive director’s self-evaluation and combines it with all other input. The committee drafts a summary based upon their findings and schedules a meeting to review their findings with the director. The committee may make changes after conducting the meeting, before preparing the final draft. The committee submits the final draft of the evaluation to the full board for approval and the board moves to approve or modify the evaluation.
Correlating Executive Director Performance with Organizational Goals
The completion of the executive director evaluation should trigger a comparison between the evaluation and the organization’s future planning. Using the benchmarks of being continuous, forward-looking, and clarifying, the board should assess the executive director’s ability to continue helping the organization meet or exceed the organization’s goals.
Performing an annual executive director review keeps the director cognizant of the importance of his role to the overall success of the organization. The review is also important to the board because it helps them identify weaknesses in leadership that have potential for negative effects on the organization. It’s helpful for boards to conduct less extensive interim evaluations to ensure ongoing progress towards the organization’s goals. The executive director’s self-evaluation may help guide organizational goals. The annual review may be more beneficial as an induction to future performance, rather than act as a post-review of past performance. In preparing the for executive director annual evaluation, it’s less a matter of how the evaluation is conducted than the fact that the evaluation gets completed on a consistent basis. It’s better to do something, than nothing at all.