I’m the chair of the Board’s Personnel Committee at a small social-services agency. We’ve routinely been involved in interviewing prospective staff members and in evaluating current ones, and have created a number of forms and procedures for doing so. Now we have a new Executive Director, who says that interviewing and evaluating staff is his job. How can we exercise our oversight function if we’re not allowed to oversee hiring?
Signed, Personnel is Personal to Me
Your oversight function consists of hiring and evaluating the Executive Director. All other personnel decisions are his, and if you don’t like them your remedy is to fire him.
I realize this is a shock to agencies that evolved from kitchen-table operations where the Board had day-to-day management functions. If the Board is managing the agency, it would have to be managing the agency’s personnel. But now that you have an executive director, the Board’s function is no longer to manage but to govern–and governors do not evaluate personnel. (If there was a previous executive director who permitted your committee to assess employees, s/he was either ignorant or unable to assert authority.)
So what’s left for the Personnel Committee to do? More of what you’ve already done: develop policies and procedures. Go beyond staff evaluation issues to consider what benefit packages the agency could offer to increase staff retention and improve staff morale. Create systems for abiding by the many laws affecting employment, including equal opportunity, overtime, labor organizing and workplace safety. Or go even further: reinvent the Personnel Committee as the Human Resources Committee and concern yourselves with the best use of all the agency’s human resources. Create volunteer programs. Conduct Board recruitment. There’s plenty to do.
What you mustn’t do is be a court of last (or first) resort for disgruntled employees. If an employee comes crying to you or any member of your Committee, your job is to tell that person to go back and work it out with his/her boss.
What if the Executive Director is a lousy personnel manager? The Committee certainly has the right–indeed, the duty–to counsel the ED on ways he could better lead his staff; and, if he’s unresponsive or incurably inept, you have the right to recommend to the full Board that he be relieved of his position. What you don’t have the right to do is tell him that Susie is discontent with the assignments he’s given her and that he should therefore alter those assignments; or that Bobby’s feelings were hurt by his tone of voice in a staff meeting. A Personnel Committee which intervenes between Executive Director and staff is creating centrifugal force that will cause the agency to fly apart.
The democratic impulse is so strong in grassroots nonprofits that it seems counterintuitive to many people, but nonprofit agencies are not democracies: they’re hierarchies in which one person (answering to a full Board of Directors) makes the management decisions. Key among these management decisions is who to manage–and that means personnel belongs to the ED.
If you reconfigure your group as a Human Resources Committee, and direct its attention out into the community (as Boards are supposed to do), you will find resources for the agency that the Executive Director would never be able to secure–and leave the ED in peace to do his job.