Develop a Plan to Help Your Staff Perform Their Best

Print More

Photos courtesy of Boys & Girls club of Dane county

The Boys & Girls Club of Dane County (Wisconsin) currently serves 5,300 kids with a budget of $4.3 million. Changes since 2009 — including improved infrastructure and better communications with staff — helped it grow from a struggling organization serving 1,800 kids.

The Boys & Girls Club of Dane County (Wisconsin) currently serves 5,300 kids with a budget of $4.3 million. Changes since 2009 — including improved infrastructure and better communications with staff — helped it grow from a struggling organization serving 1,800 kids.

Photos courtesy of Boys & Girls club of Dane county

In 2009, Michael Johnson was hired to run the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County in Wisconsin.

His title was president and chief executive, but he soon found himself sweeping up the building at night, balancing the books and helping with payroll.

“I was chief financial officer, human resources chief and chief cleaning officer,” he said.

The Boys & Girls Club had a staff of 18 and a budget of $1.4 million, but no infrastructure in place to support the needs of the kids, he said.

Even worse, Johnson found what he called “a hostile work environment.”

“Employees didn’t feel like they were compensated fairly,” he said. They didn’t feel appreciated and didn’t think the organization was communicating with them.

“We saw a lot of turnover of our direct care staff,” Johnson said.

Finding a way to deal with employee issues was critical in turning around the organization.

In fact, good practices in working with staff are critical to any organization. Sometimes referred to as performance management, these practices involve cooperation between managers and employees.


Turning things around

Johnson had learned exactly what his staff felt by doing a confidential staff survey — in his case, using a tool provided by Quantum Workplace.

Then the leadership of the organization responded to their concerns, he said.

A five-year business plan for the organization had specific responses to “deal with the [staff] challenges that were identified,” he said.

Communications were addressed. The organization now has a weekly newsletter, What’s Up Wednesdays, written by Johnson and the marketing team. It highlights the work of staff members, board members and donors. Senior staff hold regular meetings, and a full staff meeting is held monthly to update the workforce.

An employee recognition program was put in place with several types of ongoing awards.

To address the problem of high turnover and high child-to-staff ratios. The Boys & Girls Club of Dane County decided to pay its employees the highest rates in the area for comparable work.

“We looked at different [organizations] to figure out our compensation plan,” he said.

The Boys & Girls Club also offered training and professional development opportunities.

Stepped-up fundraising allowed the organization to pay its staff more, and Johnson acknowledged that raising money is a challenge. But smaller nonprofits without a lot of funding can also develop resources, he said.

“Find volunteers if you can’t afford to help frontline colleagues” by hiring more staff or raising pay, he said. Reach out to companies and foundations for volunteers, he said.

“Get input from your team,” he said. Make them feel like they’re important to the organization.

Have a open-door policy, he said, and offer recognition to your employees.

Today the organization serves 5,300 kids with a budget of $4.3 million.


Performance management

Nonprofits that serve youth often face a specific group of challenges. They can find it difficult to recruit qualified staff, pay them adequate salaries and prevent high turnover.

“Infrastructure is always an issue,” Johnson said.

A system to manage staff performance can address some of these challenges.

A performance management system is a process in which managers and employees cooperate to set up, monitor and then review employee work, with the overall goals of the organization in mind.

It’s more than a yearly performance review, according to the HRCouncil of Canada. It’s an ongoing process that includes coaching and feedback.

Performance management systems created for the corporate world don’t necessarily fit the work of nonprofits, said Jan Masaoka, author of  “The Nonprofit’s Guide to Human Resources: Managing Your Employees and Volunteers.”

“I think it is really different” in nonprofits, she said.

Masaoka is also CEO of California Nonprofits and director and editor-in-chief of Blue Avocado, a newsletter offering practical information and support to nonprofit organizations.

Nonprofits have different expectations and different ways of communicating than the private sector does, she said.

Nonprofits, for example, don’t have as many people doing the same job.

“In an organization of 30 people, they probably have 30 unique positions,” she said.

Businesses find it easier than nonprofits to standardize jobs, job descriptions and monitoring practices, she said.

In nonprofits, it’s harder to assess a person’s work outside of a team because teams within nonprofits aren’t always led by a supervisor, she said. For example, a team organizing an annual fundraising luncheon may not be led by the organization’s development director.

Nonprofits look for a greater variety of skills in people, Masaoka said. “People often bring things to an organization that are not necessarily part of their job description.”

For example, a receptionist might help the organization raise money.

“You have to look beyond the job,” Masaoka said.

In performance management, “the main thing is to have a good conversation,” she said. “The main thing is also to have a tool that’s not too restrictive.”

“A lot of management systems are written for mostly white, mostly large manufacturing firms,” she said. “Nonprofits are more diverse, more female-oriented and in services, not in manufacturing.”

“We also know that when you control for size, nonprofits have more women and people of color,” she said.

Staff members at Boys & Girls Club of Dane County (Wisconsin) get positive feedback for their work through an employee recognition system designed to increase staff retention.

Staff members at Boys & Girls Club of Dane County (Wisconsin) get positive feedback for their work through an employee recognition system designed to increase staff retention.

The ethos of nonprofits

Nonprofits also often have egalitarian values that are seen as antithetical to corporate management practices, according to the HRCouncil.

Masaoka said staff can sometimes think that working in a nonprofit means there’s going to be more praise, less criticism and that they’ll participate more in decision-making, For example, she recalled a newly hired receptionist being upset because he expected to have immediate input into the organization’s budget.

Just as people make contributions beyond their job description, they create problems by going beyond their job description, she said.

In nonprofits, staff have to meet performance requirements for different reasons than in the private sector. “We’re holding ourselves accountable to our clients,” she said.

Performance reviews are beneficial, she wrote in her book.

“You will want to develop a format and procedure that suits your organizations’s structure, activities, staff capacities and culture,” she wrote.

What is performance management?

Performance management is  a method of cooperation between managers and employees to set up, monitor and then review an employee’s work with the overall goals of the organization in mind, according to the HRCouncil of Canada.

The HRCouncil of Canada  points out that before setting up such a system, an organization needs to have well-designed jobs and written job descriptions. It should have effective supervision and also provide orientation and training to employees.

Setting up a performance management system requires support of the board, the executive director and senior managers, according to the council.

The council suggests creating a committee made up of managers, board members and employees.

Before implementation, managers must communicate the purpose of the system to employees and describe the steps. This is critical, according to the council.

The nuts and bolts

The process has three steps: plan, monitor and review.

First, managers and employees plan the objectives for each employee. Together they review the job description and then look at its connection to the organization’s goals. They outline the employee’s tasks, the expected results and ways the results will be measured. Three to five performance objectives should be chosen — and employee training and career objectives should be identified.

Objectives should be specific, measurable and set within a time frame.

If an employee is responsible for monitoring volunteers at a youth drop-in center, for example, an objective might be:

Conduct monitoring visits to the drop-in center on a monthly basis to assess the performance of the five volunteers against the plans and objectives that were developed with them.

This is better than: Visit the drop-in center and see how the volunteers are doing.


Supervisors should provide positive and supportive feedback, as well as constructive feedback when an employee needs to improve.

Constructive feedback should be a calm statement of fact with specific examples and a statement of the impact.

For example: “You were late three times last week. When you arrived late for the staff meeting, you missed an important discussion about our new fundraising campaign.”

This is far better than: “You are always late.”

The supervisor and employee agree on an action plan and the supervisor follows up with monitoring and positive reinforcement.

Source: HRCouncil of Canada