360 degrees of misery

A few posts back, I wrote about potential pitfalls in CEO evaluation, drawing upon advice I give to boards of theological schools. I stressed the importance of doing no harm – a caution that is reinforced in a recent issue of The Nonprofit Quarterly. Specifically, NQ takes on the ever popular, but potentially lethal 360° evaluation.

I appreciate the authors’ suggestion that the 360° process should come with the warning label, “Don’t try this at home.” My experiences on a couple of boards that botched the 360° process and as a consultant brought in to help other boards clean up CEO evaluation messes, have given me a healthy appreciation of all the ways the process can go wrong.


I’m not suggesting that boards set out to do things badly. It’s just that a 360° evaluation in the hands of novices, regardless how well-intentioned, all too often leads to a boat-load of misery — for the CEO, the organization, and the board. Instead of benefiting from helpful critique as their boards had hoped, organizational heads who’ve been ambushed by a killer evaluation report feeling attacked from every side.

If there’s an evaluation in your CEO’s future, you’ll want to buy “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of 360° Evaluations” (available for a download fee of $13.95 from The Nonprofit Quarterly). The following check list alone is worth the money.


The 360° process probably isn’t right the right choice if:

  • the organization is in the midst of major change such as a merger, downsizing, or executive director transition.
  • staff members are experiencing survey fatigue from other organizational projects
  • there is a high degree of mistrust within the organization.
  • staff has not been properly trained to give specific appreciative and developmental feedback .
  • there isn’t a process in place to accurately and objectively summarize the results.

Remember. A bad evaluation is not better than none at all and especially if it’s a poorly executed 360° assessment. When in doubt, keep the CEO evaluation simple and straightforward. Most important, do no harm.

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