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Good Governance: Evaluating the Executive Director

Evaluating the Executive Director doesn’t have to be painful, overly time consuming or complicated, but it does need to happen.

Evaluating the ED is about three things: goal setting, alignment, and accountability. An ED’s evaluation actually begins 12 months out when the Board and ED work together to establish and agree upon goals for the following year. The process helps to align the Board and ED around those goals and set expectations for how they will work together to achieve them. At the end of the 12 months, the evaluation becomes largely about accountability. Were the goals met? Why or why not?

Who evaluates the CEO?

Typically, an organization’s by-laws dictate who has the responsibility for evaluating the ED. It may be the Board Chair or the Chair of a specific committee such as the Governance Committee or the Executive Committee. If by-laws don’t provide the answer, one solution is for the immediate past Board Chair to assume the responsibility and partner with the current Board Chair for the delivery of feedback. This structure allows for some continuity from year to year. To be sure, other’s feedback should be incorporated into the process. I recommend soliciting feedback from the Board’s Executive Committee and the ED’s direct reports at a minimum.

What to evaluate?

The CEO really has two kinds of responsibilities:  Goals & Roles.

  1. GOALS: As mentioned above, the ED and the Board will agree upon a set of strategic goals for the year and the evaluation will focus in part on how much progress was made toward those goals.
  2. ROLES: The second piece is about how the ED performs in his/her role(s). The Board should set clear performance expectations with the ED when he/she starts. In fact, looking back at the job description used to recruit the ED is a great place to find out what the Board expects from the ED. For example, the ED might be evaluated on his/her communication skills, financial management, people management, relationship building, community engagement, etc.

Any evaluation should take into consideration both types of responsibilities and provide feedback on both. In addition to feedback from others, I recommend having the ED put together a written self-evaluation at the end of the year to re-cap all of his/her accomplishments. This allows for self-reflection and provides the ED an opportunity to remind the board of any progress made as well as any unanticipated work or variables that led to adjustments in priorities.

Scripting the Conversation

Ultimately, evaluating the ED is about having a conversation. In its purest form the conversation should follow this simple script:

  • What’s going well?
  • What’s not going well?
  • How can the Board help?

The responsible Board member should collect and review all of the feedback and select 3-5 key themes that emerge. It’s always important to be fair and balanced. Be sure to pick out some accomplishments from the self-evaluation and hand out some praise where it is due. Don’t gloss over the areas that need to be improved – clarity is the key to a successful conversation. And finally, focus on the future. What’s next? What are the goals for next year? Each year: Lather. Rinse. Repeat!

Getting Started

If you’d like to implement a CEO evaluation, the first thing to do is involve the ED in planning the process. Work with the ED on the timeline, agree on the list of stakeholders who will be asked for feedback, and work together to agree on clear performance expectations and goals.

As always, let us know if we can help!