Performance Management for Nonprofits: Focus on Feedback

April 16, 2014Gayle Loving

Performance management gets a bad rap. This is primarily because most employees (and managers) don’t think about performance management until it comes time for their annual review.

All too often, the only tangible benefit of the annual review process is that that everyone stays on their best behavior right before the year end. This runs contrary to all that effective performance management is meant to achieve. What we want is continuous improvement and reflection throughout the year – not just in the days leading up to the annual review deadline.

So how do we keep employees engaged all year long? A favorite solution of mine has been the recent shift to a more feedback-based model of performance management in which expectations (competencies and goals) are clearly stated, agreed upon, and revisited throughout the year. By removing the pressure to produce a summative verdict of an employee’s performance at year’s end, these “performance conversations” enable managers and employees to engage in a more fluid dialogue on performance improvement. As a result, the manager’s role becomes less authoritarian and more like that of a coach. 

This feedback-based model also has the benefit of being able to decouple compensation and promotion discussions from the annual review. For nonprofits that frequently struggle with the reality that performance cannot always be tied to compensation, this model enables the final performance discussion to act not as the final arbiter of an employee’s worth, but instead as a time to reflect on development and create a plan for improvement. As such, it can become an essential tool in increasing employee investment in the nonprofit and further defining their role in its mission.

What steps can you take to develop a feedback-rich culture in your nonprofit?  First and foremost, embed coaching and feedback into your operations.  Every meeting (formal or informal) with an employee is a coaching moment and an opportunity to provide constructive feedback, ultimately leading to increased employee engagement. To make this happen, there are a few basic elements you should keep in mind:

  • Make the time to provide feedback and coach your employees.  Coaching conversations must be part of a conscious effort to make the change.
  • Encourage all employees to provide feedback to others. In other words, coaching should be happening all the time, at all levels.
  • Educate managers on the need for continuous and effective feedback. Make giving good feedback a core competency.
  • Align individual goals with mission and vision and review them often throughout the year, making adjustments if necessary. Just like any good coach, know when to adjust your game plan.
  • Be persistent. Just as performance discussions shouldn’t be once-per-year, neither should your encouragement of this transition to a feedback-based model. You must be willing to commit to making this a part of your culture if it is to succeed.

The key to great organizational performance is great individual performance. And the key to great individual performance is engagement.  Building your employees’ excitement about the mission of your organization and understanding of their role in supporting it is absolutely essential. And providing ongoing feedback is one of the best ways to gain this level of commitment and ultimately improve the performance of your entire team.

What techniques have you used to provide ongoing employee feedback?  Leave a comment and let us know.

About Gayle Loving

Gayle is an accomplished executive and consultant with over 25... more

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