5 Tips for Effective, Meaningful Performance Reviews

Originally published by on July 25, 2014 in In the News,Published by BWF

Client Advisory – June 25, 2014

It’s the end of June, ending many organizations’ fiscal years, academic terms, and fundraising cycles. Now is also the time of year that many organizations conduct their performance reviews, set goals for the next year, and think about how the next year’s budget might be allocated. With so many moving parts, it can become easy to treat performance reviews as just another part of the routine. Performance reviews, however, are one of the most effective tools for successful talent management and staff retention, especially in a competitive hiring environment.

BWF’s research and data have shown that staff greatly value and want meaningful management and goals.However, few organizations utilize performance reviews to provide this value to staff, with high-performing frontline fundraisers reporting more dissatisfaction with their performance review process than their peers. Below are five strategies that development organizations can use for more effective performance reviews.

  1. Encourage both parties to come prepared to the meeting. The evaluation forms (both supervisor and staff) can be completed and distributed prior to the review meeting with the staff member. This allows the meeting to focus on setting meaningful goals, discussing ongoing concerns, and addressing the most important topics first. Having access to the evaluations before the formal performance review also ensures that neither party will be walking into the meeting blind. Since one-on-one time focused on a staff member’s performance and development is rare and hard to come by, preparing the basic materials beforehand gives team members more time to effectively be heard by management and understand what their managers are asking of them.
  2. Develop strategies behind metrics. Metrics are a hot topic for frontline fundraisers in particular. In many ways metrics drive activity. BWF data has shown that those fundraisers who are assigned outcome-based metrics perform better than their peers. Stronger fundraisers go on more calls, yes, but they also ask earlier and make more ambitious solicitations. During a performance review, dicussion can be on the overall strategies behind metrics. (What do the overall numbers for the year mean for a fundraiser’s average month? What percentage of time should be spent on top prospects? Etc.) For those who have not met or exceeded their metrics for the year, the performance review is an opportunity to discuss where the team member is spending his or her time, assess the strength and composition of his or her portfolio, and evaluate the adequacy of metrics in tracking the responsibilities and priorities of the individual.
  3. Set long-term goals beyond metrics. Under-performers are going to be most focused on those short-term goals to get their performance up to par, but for high performers and average performers, short-term goals have less meaning. In the development field, we live in a world of long timelines and high turnover. Campaigns last seven years and up, philanthropic initiatives can be around for decades, large gifts are pledged over years, and decisions are made in months and years, not days. However, due to the competition for talent in the field, chief development officers and development staff are likely to leave before several of these big initiatives are met. Setting long-term goals (what you hope will be achieved by the end of and after the campaign as well as end-of-year and intermediate goals) communicates to your team that you expect them to be around for a while and that you have a plan for them to grow. Linking their personal goals to broader team and development goals links their behavior and activity back to the mission and impact of your institution, a factor that has been linked time and time again to driving engagement among non-profit employees.
  4. Incorporate meaningful professional development and leadership opportunities. Most development shops have some amount of budget set aside for professional development, often designated for conference attendance of some variety. However, a performance review is the opportunity to discuss more long-term growth with team members, setting aside time and management buy-in not only to discuss event attendance, but also to brainstorm on implementation of newly learned skills, identify areas for career growth in leadership and management, and discuss mentorship and partnership options. So much professional development in this field concentrates on gaining technical skills (making the ask, learning a new database, etc.), but BWF data has shown that the professional development topic area most frequently requested by frontline fundraisers is team management and leadership. Leadership is not as easily taught in a conference session or periodic brown bag, and the performance review is a great opportunity to provide concrete next steps for team members to grow throughout the year.
  5. Review communications and contact practices with management. One of the most frequently cited reasons for development staff dissatisfaction is the lack of access to or attention from management. From the management side this is easy enough to understand: senior managers in development shops are often overworked, managing full portfolios, large teams, and complex systems simultaneously. Regardless, we cannot afford to ignore staff needs: staff performance is too critical to our goals, and other job opportunities are too prevalent. The performance review is the ideal time to discuss how each team member can build more open communication channels to management and for the manager to evaluate his/her own responsiveness to staff needs. Addressing this regularly in performance reviews also can build standardization of communication across the staff and help the manager set the terms with which they are most comfortable being contacted proactively.

The five strategies above are aimed primarily at performance reviews for those team members who are already effective or very effective in their positions. Low performers require more guidance in clarifying what deficits are present and setting action steps for improvement. However, for all shops, performance reviews are a tool for staff satisfaction and retention that is underutilized. When these meetings are glossed over or lack strategy, the negative effects go beyond the lost opportunity of setting ambitious goals and growing the skill set of your team. Skipped or ineffective performance reviews communicate to your team members that they are not a valued priority of your organization. Since development is a relationship-driven and human capital field, that message should not be further from the truth.

Copyright © 2014 Bentz, Whaley, Flessner & Associates, Inc.

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