Dreading annual review time? How to embrace the process and unleash talent in your team


Does the thought of annual performance appraisal time fill you with dread?

Are there members of your team who aren’t performing in the way you would like?

Are there difficult relationships in the team?

Are there roles in the team that just don’t seem to be working as you had hoped?

As with any other team in an organisation, results can be hindered by performance issues within a fundraising team. This is especially true where teams have grown over time, with roles and expectations changing during that process.

Often, a person who joined the team to perform a particular role three years ago finds themselves doing an almost entirely different role in a different structure to that which they were hired. No wonder they sometimes fail to fulfil the expectations of their role. There are also other issues, such as a lack of experienced fundraisers in the market and the need to grow our own talent within busy teams. In addition, the typical age profile and female dominance of the profession means that many teams have to manage maternity leaves, often with no resources to cover the posts during those leave periods.

In previous years where investment in fundraising teams was possible, recruiting new posts could often mitigate for a lack of performance in an area of the team and, perhaps, hide it. However, in times of austerity, it may not be possible to recruit new roles. It has become more important than ever to ensure that all roles are working effectively and that team members in the roles are able (and want) to excel.

Develop your team

As a leader, I think it is key to have a development plan for your team; to take true ownership of performance issues and unlock the talent you have within your team fully.

A good starting point is to really make good use of annual performance reviews in whatever form they exist in your organisation (or introducing annual performance reviews if they don’t already exist).

Clear diagnosis of the problem is vital. This preparatory work must be done before any performance appraisal so you can explore the issues objectively. Here is a four-step guide to the process.

Step One – What do you need?

First, be really clear as to what talents and behaviours you need in your team. Look at high-performing team members and consider what behaviours they demonstrate, how their roles work, and how they operate. Even better, use profiling to understand the behavioural profile of your star performers.

Step Two – What’s going wrong?

Second, where roles are not working, be really clear as to what is going wrong. Is the person in the role demonstrating the right behaviours but lacking the skills? If so, it is your responsibility to give them the right training and coaching. After all, you knew about their experience when you hired them. Seek feedback from others as to how the person is operating in their role. 360-degree feedback processes can be invaluable here.

Is the person not demonstrating the right behavioural characteristics (see step one)? What are they lacking? Do you know why? Are they unhappy in work or out of work, under stress, or unwell? If all were well, would they demonstrate the behaviours that you are looking for? Or is it not in their personality to do so? Using profiling tools will help clarify this for you. It may be the case that, whatever you do to support them, they simply aren’t the right fit for the role – an unhappy situation for both them and you.

Step Three – Are your expectations realistic?

Third, consider whether you got it wrong in the first place! By this I mean the structure and content of the job itself. Perhaps the job is simply impossible. Either there may simply be too much for one person to do – a volume issue. Alternatively, the role could be impossible within the current organisation for some reason beyond the role – the type of work itself or a structural/cultural issue. If it is the volume of work, then analyse exactly how they spend their time and consider what you can change, or whether you simply need more resources. If it is the type of work, consider carefully why it is not working. Think about what else you, as a leader, need to do to make it work. Were your assumptions in creating the role faulty in some way?

Step Four – Could they thrive in a different role?

Finally, as a leader, you owe it to them to consider whether the person who appears to be underperforming might succeed in a different role. If you understand clearly what their profile and skillset is, along with the profiles and skillsets of their colleagues, you may be able to engineer a restructure that lets everyone play to their strengths. I have seen team members who seemed to be failing take on a different role and become stars in a short period of time. Given that you hired them, perhaps you have a duty to consider how you might unleash their talents and enable them to succeed – providing, of course, you actually need someone to do that work and don’t create a role just to avoid tough decisions!

So, as you prepare for your team’s annual reviews, consider how you can truly embrace the process through these four steps. Explore the use of profiling (we use Talent Q in our team and with our clients), consider a well-designed 360-degree feedback process, and spend some time objectively considering team fit and structure.

Graham-Pelton Consulting can offer support to help you unleash the talent of your fundraising team. From profiling and team reviews, to role evaluation and job design, to restructure and recruitment plans and team training programmes – our services are designed to maximise the fundraising impact of your team.

Contact us to find out more.

– Susie Hills, Managing Director

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