Ensure a Successful Board-Executive Partnership in Nonprofit Organizations
Originally published in the Nonprofit Collaborative of Southern California (NPC) ebook, “What Every Board Member Needs to Know about Leading a Nonprofit”
By Randy Brinson
One absolute requirement for a successful executive review process is that it must be collaborative.
The board-executive relationship is, after all, a partnership, the purpose of which is to advance the organization’s cause. As partners, both parties have a vested interest in the executive review process, and it will only succeed for both if they share in its design and implementation. Here are ten tips to help make that goal a reality.
1. Ensure all parties agree that the purpose of the executive performance review is to foster successful performance in the chief executive role, which in turn helps advance the organization’s cause.
Articulate this purpose in a board policy that provides for annual reviews of the chief executive’s performance.
2. Establish consensus on the organization’s strategic priorities for the year ahead. Identify clear organizational SMART goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
3. Clarify the board’s role (governance) vs. the chief executive’s role (management of operations) so that each party understands its specific responsibilities for working in partnership with the other to advance the cause.
4. Agree on the four or five executive competencies that will be most significant in advancing the organization’s priorities in the year ahead.
Collaboratively figure out what resource(s) could be leveraged to address any gaps that may exist in the chief executive’s skill set. (For example, hiring a consultant to support a major initiative, or delegating leadership of a key project to a senior staff member who has the necessary expertise.)
5. Co-create an executive performance plan for the year ahead that reflects the organization’s goals and relevant executive competencies. It is critical that the board and chief executive agree on the plan’s details so that everyone is on the same page and can pull in the same direction.
6. Monitor progress throughout the year and adjust the executive performance plan as needed. Celebrate achievements and address challenges as they happen, rather than waiting until the end of the year. There should be no surprises for either party at the end of the review cycle.
7. As the performance period draws to a close, provide an opportunity for the chief executive to submit a self-assessment for the board’s review before they complete their assessment of the leader’s performance.
8. When assessment results are reviewed with the chief executive, also take the time to discuss and plan for the leader’s future professional development.
9. Review emergency succession plans for the chief executive role.
This can include a discussion between the chief executive and board chair about what steps the organization might take if the position unexpectedly becomes vacant during the year ahead. This also would be a good time for the board to review and affirm its policy that lays out the steps it should follow during an executive transition (or adopt such a policy if one doesn’t exist).
10. Conduct a separate, market-based executive compensation review that demonstrates a commitment to talent retention by providing a competitive compensation package.
Randy Brinson is Third Sector Company’s Senior Strategist for Board and Executive Leadership Development. Certified in nonprofit board consulting (BoardSource) and leadership succession planning (Third Sector Company), Randy is a trusted partner in chief executive searches and leads governance trainings, board retreats and strategic planning activities. He also has interim leadership experience and is passionate about helping organizations build capacity to better serve their missions. Connect with Randy on LinkedIn.