Though sometimes dreaded by reviewer and reviewee, performance reviews are a mainstay of communication between employer and employee, used in corporations, small businesses, government, and nonprofits alike. Done properly, a performance review provides the opportunity to manage expectations between employer and employee, addressing areas for an employee's growth and development, while tweaking those that require some improvement before major problems arise. For the employee, a performance review may represent one of the few times where he or she can provide honest feedback about his or her position, obstacles, or less-tangible aspects like company culture.
When a manager, director, or CEO conducts the review for a direct report, there's often a step-by-step form provided by HR, a checklist of relevant goals, scores, and comments designed to address every facet of that individual's professional duties, performance, and satisfaction. The same can't always be said for the CEO's own performance review, however, which may be perfunctorily performed by the board president and based only on a few annual financial figures.
Or perhaps the board isn't entirely clear on what it is the CEO does, much less how to measure it.
At vChief, we've performed performance reviews for Executive Directors and CEOs—often in association with their boards—for a number of clients. Based on what we've learned over the years, we offer the following suggestions to CEOs to get the most from their performance reviews:
Set Up an Annual Review Process. Many companies and organizations have personal review systems for CEOs in place. If yours doesn't, it's not difficult to set up. Most CEO reviews are done at the end of the fiscal or calendar year and can be assigned to a board member, external consultant, or team member (such as a Chief of Staff) to head the process of gathering, synthesizing, and delivering the review. Prioritizing an annual process for your own review sends a positive message to board members and direct reports alike that regular, objective feedback is important to you and the organization.
Get 360-degree Feedback. Ask the person leading your review to collect feedback from your direct reports, staff who don't report to you, board members, external partners, and funders/investors. You should also conduct a self-review, reflecting on your measurable goals for the year. Such comprehensive assessment from all areas of the company can foster an environment of inclusivity and show, systematically, patterns in your strengths and weaknesses as CEO. It can help direct reports and other staff understand what your goals and responsibilities are, while simultaneously allowing the board to learn how you and your leadership are perceived by employees.
Keep the Form Short and Sweet. Your review form should take no more than 15-20 minutes to complete. Consider a simple Google form that asks reviewers to share thoughts on things like where you're excelling, where you could be doing better, how you're moving forward on your priorities, how well you're managing the teams you oversee, how you're exemplifying your core values, and how well you manage your board. Where possible, it is helpful to use quantitative rankings such as a simple 1-5 agree/disagree scale, as well as qualitative feedback. There are many sample online CEO review questionnaires and services that can help get you started.
Make an Action Plan for Yourself. Using the feedback provided, think about the following: What are the common themes of areas where you need to improve? How is your performance meeting the goals and objectives of your position? Do your priorities align with the organization's vision and mission? The board (or a representative) will likely want to review your feedback with you, and may have their own recommendations for personal and professional development.
Figure Out Where You Need Support. What about those common themes in your personal review that continue to emerge year after year? Are these things you think you can move forward on your own? Or would it be helpful to get support from an executive coach to help you develop? Some habits are hard to change or are wired into our personalities. Does that mean you should shift ownership of work streams to other leaders on your team? Or should you hire someone who can support you, whose strengths complement your own? It's not an unusual question for CEOs to ask. No one can (or should) do it all. At vChief, we often see visionary leaders who need someone who has the operational strengths to set up systems that can keep all the trains running on time, so they can stay focused on the future and what's coming around the bend. Hiring additional support can often be the best decision you make for yourself—and your organization.
The personal review is one important way for CEOs to keep the lines of communication open and operating smoothly up and down the line. No one is perfect, but done regularly, openly, and effectively, the personal review can provide useful feedback and direction to help keep CEOs on track.