How can I convince my staff and volunteers that evaluation is worth the trouble?

Part of the challenge for any organization is to foster creativity and curiosity. Evaluating performance can feel like a threat, and measuring outcomes seems like establishing a report card that sets people up for failure. “What if we don’t make our goals?” “What happens if we can’t prove that we are making a difference?” These fears should not be minimized or ignored, because they are serious concerns that can undermine any effort to honestly evaluate how you are doing.

I’ve learned that creating an open organizational culture can be fostered by adopting a few simple but challenging approaches:

  • Explain clearly why evaluation is important, who wants and needs the information, and how the evaluation is likely to proceed. Avoid surprises.
  • Start modestly; set reasonable targets for your outcomes, and look for initial opportunities for success.
  • Separate the results of your outcome measurement process from individual performance evaluations; do not punish staff when the organization falls short of its goals.
  • Involve staff and volunteers in selecting your outcome indicators and in setting your targets for success.
  • Create feedback mechanisms to allow staff to learn and benefit from the results of your outcome measurement.
  • Demonstrate how staff can use outcome information to improve their performance and how the work is being done.
  • Use charts and other visual tools to track progress and allow staff to see the differences their work is (and is not) making for their clients.

These types of approaches will not eliminate the anxiety or make people jump for joy at the prospect of evaluating the program. But they can help people understand the benefits of measuring outcomes and performing other types of evaluations. As people begin to see how this sort of information can actually help them do their work better, evaluation can become an integral part of what people are doing.