I Came to Change the World, Not Conduct Performance Reviews!

by Joan Garry

Effective team management starts even before your employee's first day. Download my free employee orientation guide so your new employee AND your organization are set up for success from day one!

Let me cut right to the chase — I’m starting to believe that our sector needs a serious management training program.

As the Principal at Joan Garry Consulting, I get to work with a lot of different types of clients. Some have moved from the corporate to the public sector. With these folks, our work is often about how to motivate team members who are driven much more by purpose than by the size of their year-end bonus.

It’s about leadership, not management.

One gift of working in corporate America is the development of management chops — strong hiring practices, 30-day goals, 90-day plans, documentation, effective annual reviews…. The importance of this was instilled in me during my time in the corporate sector. As a result, I get that it is an integral part of my job and don’t resent it.

With my clients that didn’t come out of the corporate world, it’s just different. Management can be seen as a necessary evil. So much so that I have a chapter in my book called “I Came To Change the World, Not Conduct Performance Reviews.”

Now don’t get me wrong. Leadership is vital. But listen up nonprofit superheroes. You actually CAN’T change the world unless you conduct performance reviews!

We can learn a lot about management from the corporate world. Here are my top 10 management tips for nonprofit leaders. I hope you find them helpful.


I have no intention of letting you off the hook, but I do think there are some key reasons this management stuff is hard for nonprofit leaders in particular.

  1. Nonprofit leaders are pleasers. Many of you are in the business of giving everyone a fair shake. So the combo platter is rough. I hear it all the time: “I spoke with her and I think things are a little better.” “Things are rough for Scott — remote work with a small kid at home can be so taxing!” Or my favorite “Maybe I wasn’t clear enough / maybe my expectations were too high.”
  2. Nonprofit leaders don’t want to lose face. You make a new hire and you brag to your board. And then you see evidence that it is starting to crumble. Uh-oh. You’re a fixer so you get busy trying to fix rather than just speaking the truth. This hire did not work out.
  3. Pleaser EDs avoid difficult conversations. On the one hand, we have EDs who are fierce advocates ready to have hard conversations with whomever it is in the “system” that has caused harm. But on the other hand, they can’t bring themselves to have a clear and direct conversation with an employee about performance.
  4. But who will do the work? Saved the biggest for last. Literally, I have clients with a toxic staff member who will not make a move because they need someone to do the work. Meanwhile, your best staff member has had it and is looking for a new job.


1. Take Your Time Hiring

I beg you — don’t hire the best of a mediocre lot. Don’t hire someone when you see a flag on the field (that flag will stay there the entire time that person is with you). Firing is so so so much harder than waiting for the right hire.

2. Jointly Create a 30-Day Success Document

What do you as the boss want to be able to say about new hires at the end of month 1? Go beyond just what they have learned. What early recommendations have they made? And most importantly, are there 1-2 quick wins that are noticeable by everyone? We need to market the new person’s success (conversely, if the 30-day success doc is a bust, have a conversation, say so, jointly craft a second one — the 30-60 day doc — and follow up the meeting with an email that summarizes).

3. The 90-Day Success Metrics

This is one of the most important documents, but the three-month mark is the easiest point at which to make a move. Again, ask the employee to draft while you edit and shape. Document the convo and make a note if the doc is terrific or if it is unsatisfactory (see # 5 below).

4. Create Six-Month Goals

Ask your new employee to create these. I’d suggest at the 30-day mark (so it’s really a five-month doc). Have them present it to you and edit and shape it into what you think it should be. If it was not satisfactory, again, you want it in your file.

5. Create the “File”

Let’s call it the ‘plus’ or ‘delta’ file. It can be electronic or paper. You have to be diligent about it. It will be the basis for documentation if things go awry, and it will allow you to easily write a wonderful annual review because you will have all sorts of examples from throughout the year. (You do conduct annual reviews, right?)

6. Conduct Productive 1:1 Check-Ins

Ok, fess up. Before your employee check-ins, someone writes down items that come immediately to mind. While these are the most top of mind, they’re not necessarily the best use of time. Talk with your employee. What will make that meeting valuable for them? And what will be valuable for you? Consider things like:

  • Key accomplishments this last week
  • 3-5 big things ahead for next week
  • What you need from <BOSS> to be successful 
  • What you need from <COLLEAGUES> to hit those targets
  • Brief review — where are we against the 90 day / 6 month plan (higher altitude)

7. Make Annual Reviews the Real Deal

I asked a client about staff reviews: “I wish we had time to do them.” Lose a great employee that does not feel valued and I bet you will change your attitude. Or talk to a lawyer as you are working to manage someone out and you’ll play that useless game called “coulda woulda shoulda.”

Several pieces of advice about the annual review: 1) Get input from colleagues. SO important… 2) Have your spouse or BFF read the review before you send it. They have listened to you all year about these people — they can help you see whether you have the narrative right or if the scores are too easy or don’t match the narrative. 3) Include attributes and values in your document. If someone meets their goals but is a toxic colleague, the review must reflect that as an integral part of the review document.

If you have to make a move, you NEED to get this right.

8. The Six-Month Check-In

Consider this to be a lunch or something informal. Send the discussion prompts out ahead so the employee has time to consider them. Ask for nothing in writing but please write something about the conversation and put it in the employee file.

  • 3 things going well
  • 3 things could be going better
  • Restate your expectations
  • Ask the employee what they need from you to meet those expectations
  • Ask the employee what they could do to make the second six months an amazing and impactful experience for them

9. Facilitate an Annual Retreat Without Rolling Your Eyes

And speaking of eyes, expect tears. I wrote a post all about how to plan an effective and enjoyable 5-star retreat for your staff or board.

10. Pretend I Funded the Cost of Your Staff Member for the Entire Year

This is my favorite one. Your pleaser tendencies are taking over. You are sure the person can do better with just a bit more support. The excuses are spilling out of every one of your pores.

Now stop. Imagine that I personally have written a check to cover the salary and benefits of that staff person. And my only request is to meet every 6 months to hear how this donation has increased the impact of your organization’s work with detailed stories to support that.

If you can’t wait to have that meeting, you know you’re in good shape — I will be impressed and will respect you for the hire and how you are managing the work. If you don’t think you can look me straight in the eye, well, then these management tips will help you tell me how you are managing this person and I will respect you for that too.

Now, I have a bonus tip. If you read my blog often enough, you’ll know that it is hard for me to stick to ten.

Bonus Tip: Appreciation

Some managers have a hard time with this. Overwhelmed EDs don’t make time. Tougher EDs think their employees should just know (they don’t). And then (worst of all), words of appreciation for folks who are clearly in jeopardy of being managed out can come back to you, so choose carefully.

In the world we live in today, sometimes a phone call to check in shows you care and you can work in some note of appreciation AND ask about their world, their lives, their spouses, or even their imaginary friends. Or just a quick Slack or note on Teams to say thanks for a quick turnaround on something you asked for that wasn’t on their list that week.

Even most poor performers CARE and are trying their best and words of appreciation can go a long way.

We’re all human. And we all want to feel appreciated. Even me.

Scott Paley, my business partner, often edits my blog posts. And more often than not, he sends the edited version back to me without telling me if it was GOOD. If readers will find it valuable.

He’s like the overwhelmed ED — there is a lot on his plate for sure and so he finishes the edits, sends them over, and moves on to the next thing on his list.

But guess what? It matters to me. I want to know if I’m doing good! And I own the company!

So it’s all of us.


I started this post by stating that the nonprofit sector needs a full-on management training program. I believe that.

That said, we do have a LOT of resources inside the Nonprofit Leadership Lab that will help you with hiring, firing, retreats, performance reviews… really so much of what you need to implement all of these management tips and tricks at small and medium-sized organizations. 

The Lab opens to new members several times a year, so even if we’re not open right at this moment, make sure to hop on the waitlist and we’ll send you a notification the next time we open the doors.

Want to learn from a growing community of nonprofit leaders and get exclusive access to content from a variety of experts? Click here to learn more about the Nonprofit Leadership Lab.