Evaluations – the pathway to professional development

During my years as a chief executive, I always reviewed the evaluations that were written by supervisors prior to those evaluations being presented to the employees. Believing that the evaluation process should identify accomplishments and strengths as well as opportunities for growth and improvement, I was regularly disappointed to see written evaluations that failed to describe even one area in which an employee might try to grow or improve. I would usually ask: “So, there is no part of her work on which she can improve? She’s the perfect employee?”

While some employees can appear to be pretty close to perfect at their jobs, it is a rare individual who is not interested in continuing to grow and learn. That’s why it is often your very best employees—those who are often most self-aware—who are tough on themselves in their self-evaluations and quick to point out where they feel they could benefit from additional training and professional development. It is then up to the supervisor or manager to help the employee get the support, training, or coaching needed.

In your role as board chair, you can’t afford to let the evaluation process be limited to “what went well and what didn’t?” While the rest of the board might be satisfied with this approach, you need to see the evaluation process as the pathway to professional development for your chief executive. The very best leaders and chief executives are always eager to learn more, to get better at what they do, and to enhance their skills, and the evaluation process can provide the map you need to help your chief executive get there. Ongoing professional development for the chief executive should always be one of the outcomes of your evaluation process.

When you are working with a new or less-experienced chief executive, it tends to be easier to identify where additional professional development can be most beneficial and then determine what kind of training or support to recommend: a workshop on major gift fundraising, a course in basic financial management, coaching on managing conflict, a conference on marketing and communications, and so on.

As time marches on, however, and your chief executive matures into a seasoned leader, it can be tempting to assume that there is less room for professional development. Keep in mind, however, that just because the chief executive has gotten really good at his or her job, that doesn’t mean his or her appetite for continuous improvement, for learning, or for professional development has diminished—it just means that how you feed that appetite needs to be different. And keep in mind that, as was pointed out in an earlier blog posting about evaluations, the skills that your chief executive has needed to this point may not be the same ones that will be required as you move into the future.

So if you are working with an experienced skilled chief executive, it may be that he or she doesn’t need another workshop or an on-line training session. He or she might benefit, instead, by having an opportunity to test his or her skills while serving on a board of directors, presenting at a conference, or serving as a mentor for someone else. Or consider having a discussion with the chief executive about what he or she sees as the looming threats to your nonprofit’s business model, as potential opportunities, or as environmental uncertainties that need to be explored. Your focus could be on building within your chief executive the knowledge and the skill-set that you’ll need in order to face an uncertain future. Identifying what that skill-set might need to be will provide you with guidance as to what kinds of professional development may be of most value.

Job satisfaction is often linked to an employee’s ability to grow and develop, so don’t lose track of the importance of this. While the rest of the board is likely to be in favor of professional development and eager to keep your chief executive satisfied with his or her job, they will be counting on you to take the lead. That means it is also your responsibility to make sure that the message to the board, and from the board, is that professional development is expected and supported—and that includes being sure that there are sufficient dollars in the budget for it.

Somewhere along the line, it is likely that a supervisor found a way to support your professional development. As board chair, it is one of your responsibilities to do the same for your nonprofit’s chief executive. Use the annual evaluation process to help decide what kind of professional development will be most beneficial, and then make sure the board invests in it. It is an investment that is sure to pay dividends in the future.

For additional information, please contact Jeff Wahlstrom at (207) 992-4407 or send him an e-mail message at [email protected].