When we meet with community groups, we often hear groups talking about their staff evaluation processes- or lack thereof. Staff evaluations are an important accountability mechanism for any organization, but also an important moment for staff to get a sense of how they are doing- in fact, as much as we might find it nerve-wracking, receiving regular feedback (positive or negative) is a key component of staff happiness and well-being.
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From what we’ve seen, Quebec nonprofits run into a few common problems with their staff evaluation processes:
- They have staff evaluation processes in name only, and no one can remember the last time a staff evaluation process was actually executed
- The staff evaluation process is carried out by the Board, who don’t work closely enough with staff to be able to offer meaningful feedback
- There isn’t enough trust in the process for people to give honest feedback on their evaluations of their colleagues, so the staff evaluations come back “looking good” even though there are real problems and tensions in the workplace
- The staff evaluations are not linked to job descriptions or tasks, but something more general; or, they are linked to job descriptions that are out of date and no longer reflect the actual tasks the staff member does
In 2016 and 2017, COCo piloted a new staff evaluation process, largely because we also wanted to find a more meaningful and impactful way of doing performance evaluations. Designing a new staff evaluation process was also part of continually trying to improve our horizontal and consensus-based structure. The research is clear that people have the hardest time giving feedback to their peers, and in a flat organization, we knew we were going to have to work at ensuring we were building a healthy feedback culture.
COCo’s Staff Evaluation Process
Our new staff evaluation process has a few key features that organizations might find a bit unusual.
- All of our feedback is given in a face to face meeting, as well as in written form. For our yearly staff evaluations, every staff member meets with every one of their peers for a feedback exchange; in the case of our probation meetings, only our HR coordinator meets with the staff member in question to deliver the feedback
- We drew heavily on the staff evaluation process that InterPares developed in their organization, that helped us outline in more detail the important interpersonal skills we are looking for in our employees.
- We include automatically a section where staff can observe structural issues in the organization that are impacting their workload
- The process includes some flexibility, so that staff members are only going through one evaluation process a year (to avoid having a probation meeting and a yearly staff evaluation within a few months of each other for example)
- Many of the outcomes and reflections that come out of our evaluation process is tied to the workplans we build for ourselves for the coming year, and follow up conversations are built into the agenda of our next staff meetings
Roses and Thorns
Overall, our new evaluation process has yielded some really great results. It resulted in multiple people in the organization passing on portfolios they didn’t have the capacity to manage- and those “areas” of work are now in the hands of people who have time and energy for them. Other staff members “traded” responsibilities, so that new staff could learn important skills, where more senior staff still felt like they were learning and being challenged in their work. Some important structural dynamics were named through the process, which allowed us to address them. Maybe most importantly, the “learning goals” we set for ourselves felt meaningful and important, rather than a rote part of ending the year.
The first year we piloted our new process, we ran into one central issue: it was emotionally exhausting to spend an entire day talking about our personal and professional performance! In year 2, we split the peer-to-peer conversations up over several days so people could catch their breath in between.
Both years that we have used this strategy, we have had a leftover question about how to evaluate how each of us is living, in our work, the anti-oppressive values of the organization. This is only minimally addressed in the document, and is still an open question for us!
Your Staff Evaluation
What does your staff evaluation process look like? Do you like it? What things have you tried that have worked well? We’ve included a general overview of our staff evaluation process below- but if you have one you would like to share, we would be happy to link to it!