Executive Director Evaluation (and Evaluating Everything Else You Do!)

“We are about to evaluate our Executive Director. What should we ask him?” Ah, one of my favorite questions in the whole world!

Or here – one of my favorite meeting scenarios:

“Joe, you were going to get hold of Mr. Smith last week to move the project forward. What’s the status of the project?”

“I left him a message. He never got back to me.”

And the project is no closer to being done.

This series – Stop Signs Along the Road to Changing the World – asks, “If this is the sector that was supposed to change the world, what’s stopping us?”

And if ever there were something stopping us, it is that we keep focusing on what we need to DO, rather than what we need to ACCOMPLISH.

STOP Sign: Doing vs. Accomplishing
Let’s look at Joe’s situation in the meeting. Joe didn’t see himself as responsible for accomplishing something – he saw himself responsible for doing something. He made the call, he was done – even though nothing was accomplished.

Community Benefit Organizations are really good at doing. We feed hungry people. We put on performances.

We are really good at measuring what we do. We fed 3,000 people. We had 400 people attend our performance.

And unfortunately, we are not aiming at accomplishing something; we are aiming at doing something.

When we see the purpose of our work as the doing, we get vested in the doing – even when our vision may be that we not have to do that work anymore!

“We fed more people at the food bank this year than last year.”  If you see the purpose of your work as the doing part, that is good. If you are about accomplishing, however, that news may be good, or it may not be good. It may be better if fewer people needed the food bank!

“We had more people attend our performances this year than ever before.” That news may be good, or it may not be good. Were those people excited about your core mission of producing homegrown avante-garde plays? Or did you finally just give up on that core mission, and instead produced a season of musical sing-alongs to fill seats and pay the bills?

When we focus on what we want to accomplish (and especially who we want to accomplish that for), we do what we need to do.

The reverse is unfortunately not true. When we focus on what we do, we are not necessarily aiming at what we want to accomplish. More often than not, when organizations are focused on the doing part, they believe they do not have time for the accomplishing – and especially not “accomplishing on behalf of the community.” We don’t have time to think about building a prosperous, healthy community – we barely have time to house the homeless coming through our doors now!

(And even looking internally, how many organizations have we consulted to, who don’t feel they have time to focus on accomplishing Sustainability because they are too busy doing stop-gap fundraising to survive another year!?)

So how does that translate to evaluating our efforts? Evaluating our Executive Director, evaluating our board meetings, evaluating our organization’s performance? The first step is that we begin asking different sets of questions.

Instead of evaluating our ED on what he/she did, we will begin asking what he/she accomplished – and for whom. And we will begin to see that what the ED accomplishes is what the organization accomplishes.

Same goes for the board. Instead of using checklists to determine if the board did this or that, we would ask what we want the board to accomplish this year for the community.

If we expected accomplishment from our organizations, that would be what we would expect from our Executive Director, from all our staff, from our boards – from each other. We would know how to evaluate our ED, we would know how to make staff meetings actually move us forward. We would know how to do planning, and we would know what board meetings should look like.

There is a mile of difference between doing and accomplishing. One gets us closer to our dreams for our communities. The other is a Stop Sign along that road. Which path are you on?

Part 2 of this article is 11 Ways to Transform Your Organization from DOING to ACCOMPLISHING.

The Pollyanna Principles will help your organization accomplish all the community improvement you can imagine.  Read more here.

4 Responses to Executive Director Evaluation (and Evaluating Everything Else You Do!)

  1. Nicely done! This approach would make good EDs feel better about themselves, and be able to communicate more positively to staff about evaluation.

    I have been wording this more in terms of “ask the ED what progress the organization has made on its strategic plan”. Given the lack of strategic plans at many organizations, and the poor quality of many existing ones, this would be a better way to word the issue at Board Development sessions.

  2. Jane:
    Thanks! While I still like using the plan as a guide – it is a good barometer of what’s being done – there is another problem we have found with “strategic” plans as evaluation tools: The plans themselves are so often written in the language of “do” vs. “accomplish.” How often do we all see “strategic” plans that “do” lots and “accomplish” little?! But I guess that’s a whole ‘nother post!

  3. I agree with the difference between accomplish and do but , we need to remember that the concept of accomplish needs to be fully defined in relation to the goals. Without that definition it becomes a purely subjective exercise.” My to-do list said make the call. I did. I accomplished that task.” Communication regarding the goals to be accomplished are an integral part of this process.