Dealing With a Poorly Performing Executive
a Guide for the President
by Nathan Garber
originally published in
Boards & Governance Review, April 7, 2005
Click here for a
printable version of this help sheet in Adobe Acrobat format.
Dealing with the executive director’s
performance problems is one of the most difficult jobs for the volunteer
president of a nonprofit organization. Although the circumstances will be
different for every organization, there are some general steps you can take to
prepare yourself to address the problems and come up with solutions.
To improve performance and protect the
board, you must act as soon as the performance problem has been identified.
Failure to address poor performance may be seen by the courts as condoning the
behaviour and may make it difficult to rely on the poor performance as “just
cause” for termination.
Review your organization’s policies,
contracts, correspondence, motions, job descriptions, and reports for
references to expectations, performance standards, objectives, or agreements
related to the executive director’s performance.
Consult a lawyer or HR expert
knowledgeable in the employment law of your jurisdiction. Explain the
situation and discuss your options. If you think the problem might result in
termination, make sure you know what steps to follow.
Arrange a meeting of two board members
with the executive director. One person should be the note-taker. If you feel
that a third person is necessary, this person should be primarily an observer.
As President, you should conduct the interview. Prepare yourself with clear,
documented examples of the behaviours to be discussed.
At the meeting:
Begin by stating the purpose: to
clarify what appears to be a problem; to come up with solutions together, to
identify what the board members and executive director will do to remedy the
problem, and to set dates for monitoring progress.
Describe the performance problem or issue in an objective manner. Wherever
possible, give a specific example of the behaviour. Explain why it concerns
you – how the behaviour is affecting the performance of others, how it impacts
upon the organization. Avoid references to personality or character.
Ask the executive director for his/her view of the problem. Listen carefully
without arguing, but probe for deeper understanding. Does the executive
director recognize or deny the problem. How does the executive director
analyse the factors and causes? Does he/she accept responsibility? Is he/she
willing to change?
Explain that the board of directors has an obligation to ensure that the
situation is corrected. You need and expect the executive director to be part
of the solution. Ask for the executive director’s ideas on how to solve the
Discuss each idea. What help does the executive director need to implement the
idea. How can the board assist? Decide on the actions necessary to achieve
success. Clarify and agree on what each of you will do, when you will start,
and when it will be completed.
Set a date for a meeting at which improvements in performance will be
assessed. Set dates for any further discussion and/or progress reports.
Be clear about the consequences if the problem is not resolved.
After the meeting, document the
discussion in a letter to the executive director stating the actions on which
you agreed and the dates for monitoring progress.
If you observe changes in performance
(both positive and negative) don’t wait until the next scheduled meeting to
respond. Reinforce positive performance. Keep notes of your observations and
those that are reported to you. These notes will be important in the event of
any future legal action.
inspired by and adapted from Dealing with the Poorly Performing Employee, a
workshop presented by Sandra Safran, Sandra Safran HR Services:
Human Resources Consulting, London, Ontario