4 Tips for Effective Nonprofit Performance Reviews

4 Tips for Effective Nonprofit Performance Reviews

"Dear Manager,
It's that time again; performance reviews are due by the end of the month. Please make sure you meet with your direct reports and conduct these meetings, complete this form, have the employee complete it, and email the document back to us.

If you've ever read an email like this and felt a shiver run down your spine, we get it. Performance reviews often seem like an arduous task that requires many hours of commitment without a clear direction or purpose.

Nonprofits, in particular, have a more significant challenge with performance reviews because of the many hats these professionals wear. This article will outline four tips for effective performance reviews to ensure that you are making the most out of your meetings while also providing your employees with opportunities for growth and development.

Most importantly, we must acknowledge and define why these performance reviews are essential to any business. Performance Reviews are a tool to foster growth, allowing managers and employees to reflect on their work to help them become self-aware. They are a commitment from the employer to the employee that they will help develop and mentor their staff, a significant aspect of any company culture.

For the employee who is meeting or exceeding expectations, a performance review is an opportunity to highlight their accomplishments while developing a plan for growth, promotion, and additional responsibilities. This is an insightful time for the underperforming employee to course-correct behavior and clarify expectations.

Employees tend to shy away from these conversations, as they may feel self-conscious about their work or fear reprimand. While some of these conversations may sometimes be uncomfortable, organizations owe it to their employees to be clear and transparent.

Brene Brown has shared some of the most concise and insightful advice that helps illuminate this process; "Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind." We can not expect change without first identifying the expectations and current behavior, so clarity must be the pinnacle of the conversation.

1. Create a Great Process

Creating a process for your performance reviews is essential for your nonprofit organization. For HR departments, this is a project that deserves adequate attention and planning. Plenty of online resources can help organizations facilitate the performance review process; however, developing and facilitating the process internally might be the best option in some instances.

Developing your performance review process includes a review of goals, self-assessments, feedback meetings, compensation review, and strategy. After a performance review period, an organization can review the collected data to gain a broader understanding of the organization's performance. It offers insight into a gap-analysis review to see how the organization can include skill-building to improve performance.

Some organizations lack the bandwidth to create this process and will solicit input from an HR consulting firm specializing in performance review strategy and development.

2. Communicate

Ensure that messaging is transparent and communicated to the employees. We've all felt that sense of anxiety about an upcoming performance review at one time or another, and we need to address that sense of discomfort. How an organization communicates its process and purpose of the performance reviews to its workforce will set the foundation for a successful and productive performance assessment.

Here are a few things to consider including in your messaging to employees:

  • The performance review process is intended to highlight and celebrate your achievements since the last review.
  • Performance reviews help management understand how they can improve their leadership and coaching.
  • These reviews are tools to set goals, track progress, and document growth.
  • These meetings and discussions help clarify expectations and review job descriptions which can lead to examining and redefining roles.
  • Performance reviews are used to create supporting narratives for promotion and career growth.

Communication about performance reviews should help alleviate any anxiety or pressure felt during this time. Communication should also be timely and sent out well before the performance review period to allow employees time to self-reflect and prepare for the meetings.

3. Clarify

It can not be overstated that clarity is the ultimate key to a successful performance review. When we clearly define expectations of a role, which starts with a comprehensive job description, only then can we have candid conversations about performance.

Some organizations use performance review matrixes to rate performance in general competence areas, while others take a more holistic approach and view performance as a total package. There are times when one might be more beneficial than the other, but in both instances, neither will be effective unless we are transparent and clear about what we expect and what we are experiencing.

One of the most significant failures of a leader is when they shy away from difficult conversations that could lead to employee growth because they are uncomfortable with those discussions. The onus is on the leader/manager to be able to facilitate a conversation and set boundaries to make the employee feel safe in objectively reviewing their performance and experience.

Nonprofits and mission-driven organizations need absolute clarity on expectation and performance because, as Blaise Pascal once said, "Clarity of mind means clarity of passion, too." Folks working at nonprofits are often driven from the heart center, and they need to align their passions and mission to get everyone "rowing in the same direction."

While a clear and mutual understanding can easily be found regarding deadlines, attendance, time management, and other quantifiable metrics, we need to define and understand a role's more colorful aspects.

Things to consider having transparent conversations about might include the following:

  • Communication style with coworkers/clients
  • Willingness and ability to take initiative
  • Workstyle approach
  • Employee engagement and passion for the work

Performance reviews are an integral part of talent management to help identify and build leaders in an organization to support business development and organizational competency.

4. Continue the Conversation

Now that you've strategized, created a process, communicated with the workforce, met with the employees, had clear and candid conversations, and completed your documentation, your next step is to continue the conversation.

It would be for naught to put in all this work and not follow through with future conversations to revisit performance, expectations, and goals. During these conversations, you have identified strengths and opportunities for growth and established a plan to course-correct or for continued development. Not only is it in the organization's best interest to monitor the action plan, but it is also a service to the employee to help them along their career path.

It's common for an organization to administer performance reviews annually, bi-annually, or quarterly, but the conversations should always be open for constant feedback and casual check-ins.

Continuing the conversation is arguably the most critical and ongoing step in the performance review process. It sends a clear message to the employees that their managers and the organization are there to support them and want them to be successful. Performance reviews and open dialogue are contributing factors to company culture, and the investment in this process is well received by the workforce when administered holistically and authentically.

Performance reviews are part of a larger Talent Management process and vary in their degree of intricacy. The performance review process is undoubtedly one of the most comprehensive tools that HR departments and nonprofits utilize to inform all other aspects of their work.

While the process can take time to develop and evolve, if you create a solid foundation, communicate the importance, create a safe space, create clear and mutual understanding and continue the conversation, an organization will find that its workforce feels more cohesive and collaborative. Employees will see that they have a more defined role and runway, which will help foster their personal and professional development and support the organization and its mission.

What are some of your pain points regarding the performance review process?

Can you remember when you felt anxious about your own performance review? What would have made it more comfortable for you?

Author: Conor Hughes - RealHR

Conor Hughes of RealHR

Conor is a professionally certified consultant (SHRM-CP), Board Member, and marketer. He enjoys managing projects, creating strategies, and brainstorming ways to bring organizations to new heights. With the company in mind, he strives to serve others by building trust and relationships while guiding them through the process of growth. He seeks to use technology to empower organizations and individuals while guiding all steps of change management.

As a board member of the Westchester Human Resource Management Association, he serves as the Social Media and Marketing Chair. He helps foster collaboration and community engagement for HR professionals across Westchester, NY. Conor specializes in communication and relationship building to strengthen teams. He is passionate about workflow optimization and solution-based technology to enhance an organization's mission-driven impact.

Outside of his professional engagements, Conor can be found traveling to unique destinations to hike, camp, and explore. He loses track of time when his camera is in his hands, and he has a passion for poetry and painting. While the Hudson Valley will always be his home, he has now found himself exploring the Rocky Mountains in Denver, Colorado.

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