Evaluating the Chief Executive

Are performance reviews really necessary?

Many of the nonprofit chief executives we meet lament that they do not get enough ongoing feedback from their boards, or receive regular annual performance reviews.  It’s hard for leaders to achieve their personal best when they lack feedback on which to base their development.  This is particularly true for chief executives, who can be more isolated than other nonprofit executives.

Once a new executive hire is in place, it is critical for the board to provide a comprehensive evaluation at the end of the first year. Going forward, board leadership should commit to regularly evaluating the chief executive.  Unfortunately, many boards fail to do this, missing key opportunities to enhance the leadership of the organization. Over the years, board chairs have shared a variety of reasons for this:

“We know she is doing a good job, so we just tell her informally 

and give her a salary increase.”

 “It takes too much time, and it’s too difficult because we are not there to 

observe him day to day.”

 “We don’t hear any complaints from staff or funders, and the organization runs

 in the black, so why do we need to engage in a time consuming formal process?”

Boards may think they know how the chief executive is really doing, but they frequently lack comprehensive information that presents a full picture of the chief executive’s performance.  Staff who report to the executive director rarely contact board members with feedback unless the individual exhibits egregious behavior.

Conducting an annual review of the chief executive is an important component of good board governance.  Working with the chief executive to ensure that performance review systems are in place for all staff is  a nonprofit management best practice. Most importantly, however, evaluating the chief executive can provide helpful information that will enable the leader to grow and develop their skills and competencies.  Why not choose to have a leader who is continually learning and growing, and has rich feedback to help shape that growth?

One simple, yet effective way to evaluate the chief executive is through the use of multi-rater, or 360° feedback.  Rich and balanced feedback is gathered from peers/colleagues, direct reports, the board chair (or whoever directly oversees the chief executive), and external stakeholders. The process can include a survey, individual interviews or both.  Feedback can be gathered anonymously or openly.  Obtaining a set of rich and robust feedback for the chief executive can be invaluable to that person’s growth and development.  And, it sends a strong message to staff and the extended board that the organization takes performance management and leadership development seriously.

It is important to introduce the feedback process thoughtfully and appropriately, so everyone understands the purpose and structure of the process.  Finding an appropriate tool and structure for the process is also critical.

The Essential 360 Leadership Assessment is an online multi-rate feedback survey that enables boards to evaluate their chief executive in a cost effective way.  Available from Rosewood Consulting Group and TransitionWorks, the survey is easy to administer and collects a rich set of data on eight key areas of leadership competence:

Personal/Interpersonal Interactions


People Orientation

Team Orientation

Stakeholder Orientation

Strategic Orientation




The survey also contains several narrative questions designed to provide comprehensive feedback and recommendations about the leader’s strengths and developmental needs.  We work with you and your chief executive to implement and manage the feedback process.

To learn more about how to effectively evaluate the Chief Executive and The Essential 360 Leadership Assessment, contact us.

by Lesley Mallow Wendell