Why I Hate the Idea of Performance Reviews

staff retention

Many nonprofit employees say they dread performance reviews. And if you secretly survey them, I bet the vast majority would be happy to get rid of them altogether.

In fact, I strongly believe the annual performance review is one of those practices from the business world that nonprofits have adopted at face value and needs to seriously be reexamined.

Why? In the first place, so often these employee evaluations are conducted incorrectly and they end up destroying staff morale, creating bitterness and resentment.

Furthermore, many nonprofit workers I have talked to over the years say they worry about being judged based on expectations that were never actually established in the beginning. There’s also concern about using other people’s subjective opinions, commonly through anonymous surveys, as basis for an individual’s evaluation.


If Not An Annual Performance Review, Then What?

Here’s what I think the process should involve:

  • Concrete goals/objectives: All team members should have a work plan that clearly spells out their goals and objectives, along with a timeline of important achievements and milestones. This document should be reviewed several times a year. Note: it should be expected that this plan will change from time to time in response to ever-changing circumstances.
  • Organizational values: Let’s face it: we all have values, however, many of us do not spell out what that actually means in reality. Basically, it’s important to discuss the values and the concrete actions that demonstrate how they impact the overall organization.
  • Consistent feedback: Feedback must be consistently delivered in order to be effective. Managers and directors should meet regularly with staff, one-on-one, providing honest feedback, both positive and constructive. I think it is much less intimidating to receive feedback like this throughout the year. All too often, executive directors use the annual performance review as a reason to postpone delivering important feedback.
  • Mutual feedback: Feedback should never only be one-way. Create a culture where feedback is not terrifying, but rather a way to ensure that it is a two-way communication street, where everyone can benefit.
  • Holistic feedback: To many, nonprofit work is basically one massive group project. And because many nonprofit employees work in multiple teams, it’s important for each team to evaluate itself as a unit. For example, after major fundraising events, always debrief on what went well and what can be improved on.

Nonprofits today must transition from the antiquated annual performance review of yesterday to a more modern culture of consistent, mutual and all-inclusive feedback based on clear expectations around concrete goals and objectives.


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