Some Stats Nonprofit Leaders Can’t Ignore

Sometimes stats speak for themselves and don’t require a lot of interpretation. That was the “aha” I got after reading through the recently released 2016 Nonprofit Sector Leadership Report.

Why would an executive director lead the organization through such a resource-intensive effort and then not use it to
guide the performance of the people that are expected to achieve the objectives outlined in the strategic plan?


“We don’t have the resources to do a good job on these types of strategic initiatives”. Got it…so we should see a Strategic plan not tied to performanceconsiderable difference when a nonprofit has a bigger budget, right? Not so, as the last bar on the graph indicates.
I think it is time to look at the “under-resourced” issue through another lens.
I know there are many that feel nonprofit leaders are in this situation because they haven’t been given the money and support from funders to focus on leadership initiatives.

True, but…

There has to be something else going on because 95% of the survey respondents were confident in their personal leadership abilities, and 91% were confident in their ability to help the nonprofit accomplish its goals.

Clearly, there’s a disconnect.Slide2

If we have any hope of shrinking the leadership gap in the nonprofit sector we need to challenge the premise that you can be an effective leader without engaging in the practice of leadership. As John Maxwell would say, an executive director’s leadership ability (knowledge, understanding and application) is always the lid on personal and organizational effectiveness.

When boards really get that, they will be uncompromising in hiring and cultivating unsung heroes with great leadership potential. When executive directors really get that, they will recognize that leading the organization towards its vision is their only mission. When funders really get that, they will invest in nothing less.

Is Your Annual Performance Review Process Creating Workplace Zombies?

workplace zombiesAs Zina walked towards her co-worker’s cubicle she knew something was off. Sandra, dubbed the “golden child”, was staring out of her cubicle into space. Zina approached slowly and waved her hand in front of Sandra’s face and said loudly, “what’s up with you?”. At that moment, Sandra came out of her haze, looked at Zina and said “oh, nothing…just thinking about my performance review this morning…what a drain!”

While evaluating performance is a valuable process for a mission-driven organization, many executive directors are unknowingly allowing their process to suck the life out of their managers and employees. Want to know if you are hosting a back-up filming site for AMC’s The Walking Dead?

Here are some clues:

Clue #1: Your Top Performers Dread The Process
After you have spent a little time in management, you recognize the quirks of the annual performance review game: the employees with good performance who underrate themselves, the employees with poor performance who overrate themselves and the managers who can’t muster the courage to select “below average” in any category. These are just some of the “oddities” that make the annual talk about performance awkward.

While it is easy to assume that the only employees complaining about the annual performance review are the ones with poor performance, that assumption can mask an overlooked truth. When top performers are waxing cold, it is time to look under the hood. In general, for the performance review process to be worthwhile, employees, managers and the organization as a whole must see and derive value from it.

Clue #2: Your Managers Are Not Comfortable With Feeling Uncomfortable
No matter how many times you have done it, addressing performance challenges with an employee face-to-face is never easy. Even for experienced managers it can feel like walking into the lion’s den. It is no wonder then that the mere thought of having the conversation can trigger sweaty palms, a rapid heartbeat and the urge to flee. That is a normal human response to a perceived threat – real or not.

However, to avoid that feeling many managers will dance around or avoid addressing a significant performance issue with an employee. Ninety percent or more of the time that tactic backfires on them as most performance issues escalate if left unchecked. To be effective, managers must learn to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Situations involving conflict and uncertainty produce feelings of discomfort each and every time. Instead of avoiding the normal feelings of discomfort involved in the performance management process, the savvy manager normalizes them to improve the experience.

Clue #3: Your Annual Performance Review Form Is More Focused On The Past Than The Future
As a leadership strategist, this is one of the biggest blunders I’ve seen in organizations relative to performance assessment – the form has become more important than the function. I’ve watched organizations spend thousands of dollars and countless hours of time collecting performance data every year to put on a form that will sit in a folder in a file drawer collecting dust until the next year. Sadly, I admit that I have not only been part of the dysfunction, but an advocate for it in the past.

Now, I advise my clients to create value rather than a process when it comes to performance assessment. That strategy will lead an organization to invest more dollars and energy on perfecting the dialogue rather than the form. After all, the primary purpose of the form is to help employees understand how their performance needs to grow in the following year to help the organization reach its goals. The real value is in cultivating growth.

Unfortunately, most performance review forms dedicate 80% of their real estate to past performance and only 20% to future performance. This puts the focus of the annual conversation on how employees performed over the last twelve months. However, to cultivate growth, organizations must shift the focus of the annual conversation to how employees should perform in the next twelve months. Doing so enlightens the organization on how to better prepare managers to support and encourage behavior change.

Time Saving Shortcut for Assessing the Talent In Your Organization

According to Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO)’s recent national study of philanthropic practice, “Nonprofits still don’t have the resources they need to respond to new opportunities, leadership transitions or changes in their environment.”

This sentiment is echoed throughout the sector and serves as a wake-up call for the nonprofit ecosystem. While the funder stream is slowly coming into a new awareness about best practice in capacity, nonprofit executives can’t afford to sit idle – their missions are depending upon them.

My focus is on sharing high impact, low cost leadership strategies that nonprofits can implement now to increase sustainability and impact. Talent assessment and development doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to have an impact, if done right.

Seeing how it is administered in most organizations, it is easy to see why most leaders cringe at the mere mention as they imagine the tedious performance review form and the annual anxiety-ridden conversation. As executive director, it is your role to set the talent assessment and development strategy for the organization. It doesn’t have to be cumbersome. Here’s a time-saving method to get started:

  • REVIEW THE PERFORMANCE/POTENTIAL MATRIX COLLECTIVELY WITH YOUR DIRECT REPORTS – This is a framework that is used to take a “snapshot in time” of the talent within your organization. The premise: talent is a reflection of both performance (delivering results) and potential (ability/aspiration to climb up the org chart). A high performing organization needs a diverse combination of both to be sustainable. The insight gained from this exercise is valuable for succession and talent development planning.
  • HAVE EACH DIRECT REPORT INDIVIDUALLY PLOT THEIR STAFF USING THE PERFORMANCE/POTENTIAL MATRIX WORKSHEET – If this is the first time you are engaging in an activity like this with your team, have them complete the worksheet before handing out the Developing Talent Matrix to avoid the having them plot a person based on how they WANT to develop them vs. how they NEED to develop them.
  • REVIEW THE COMPLETED MATRIX WORKSHEETS COLLECTIVELY AS A TEAM – Give each direct report an opportunity to discuss where their employees are plotted on the matrix. (NOTE: This is a prime opportunity for you to stretch the leadership capabilities and collaboration of the senior leadership team by asking them to “challenge” one another on their designations where necessary. As members of the senior leadership team they are expected to put the organization’s best interest above their individual department or program areas. This assignment could provide valuable insight about the leadership development needs for the team, collectively and individually.)  
  • AFTER WORKSHEETS ARE DISCUSSED AS A TEAM, REVIEW THE DEVELOPING TALENT MATRIX FOR RECOMMENDATIONS – Give each direct report time to digest the recommendations against the employees that are plotted in each box. If the recommendations won’t boost the employee’s performance and/or potential, consider whether or not the employee is in the right box. Make adjustments where necessary.
  • ASK EACH DIRECT REPORT TO CREATE DEVELOPMENT PLANS (BASED ON THE DEVELOPING TALENT MATRIX) FOR THEIR STAFF IN THE “PROMOTE TO A NEW ROLE” BOXES AND REVIEW THEM COLLECTIVELY AS A TEAM. – Reviewing it as a team gives the leaders an opportunity to create “stretch assignments” that benefit the organization as a whole and not just a particular area of the organization.