Robey’s Blog: Faith, HR & Charity – What a Performance!

Robey Jenkins, HR Manager for Age UK Gloucestershire, shares his weekly blog with us – this week, the issue of handling performance appraisals in the charity sector:

performance appraisals age uk gloucestershire

There are times – not many, but a few – when I envy my colleagues in the commercial and even public sectors. One of those is when I have to get to grips with the slippery concept of “job performance” in a charity.

The issue of how to rate performance is fairly tricky to begin with, when you work in an environment whose whole ethos is based upon effective caring. We recruit and select based on potential employees’ natural gift for caring for other human beings, so then asking them, in their management roles, to make judgements about how well another person does their job can sometimes mean climbing a substantial emotional and mental barrier. It means raising managers’ understanding of care as not just simple human-to-human contact but as a product delivered by a team or group of team… but at the same time without losing sight of care in its simplest, most intuitive form.

It means grappling with the tricky idea of when someone cares too much: in a way that puts themselves at risk by going beyond professional boundaries, or puts others at risk by over-committing to a single client – missing your next appointment due to over-commitment to the person in front of you, when that missed appointment would have revealed an even more pressing need.

Addressing this means having to be the hard-hearted, objective face of the charity’s business – a curious position for an HR practitioner who, in commercial operations, is more often seen as the softie (pink and fluffy, remember?). Try as we might, we can’t measure how much someone cares. But, like astronomers searching out black holes, we can see the invisible by measuring its effects.

Managers in Charities need help to Frame Objectives and KPIs

Managers in charities, in particular, need help framing objectives and KPIs because they feel like they are diminishing the ability of individuals to care – when, in fact, they are enabling the team as a whole to care better. We deliver objectives and KPIs without explaining the context, we run the risk of placing our employees’ focus exclusively on the numbers and diminishing their respect for the real importance of caring that fits into the gaps around the numbers.

So we have to work with managers to try to predict the effects of good caring. At Age UK Gloucestershire, a lot of our work is delivered directly to our clients, so good caring should prompt word-of-mouth referrals and positive customer feedback. But there are other, more subtle signs. For example, we should see a certain level of contact with the main office from our support workers, because they ought to be seeking advice and guidance on how to help their clients if their circumstances change – and doing so in a consistent and supported way. Anecdotal evidence alone is poor evidence of performance, but looking at the rate at which anecdotal evidence is received is a much better indicator.

Most of our various services are paid for by clients, but with the service itself subsidized by the charity to keep costs down and performance up. But the more we have to subsidize here the less we can subsidize there and our ability to expand upon our services is limited by the amount by which we can afford to subsidize them. Holding managers to account for financial performance, then, isn’t about trying to make them care less – it’s about helping the charity as a whole to care more. But despite being objectively obvious, this is still a hard sell when the act of caring itself doesn’t – and can’t – appear on any balance sheet.

But if measuring performance is hard, that’s as nothing to working out how to reward performance.

Even public sector bodies think little of awarding performance-related pay. This is, oddly, especially true in a time of increasingly deep cuts, because senior leaders who can deliver seven-figure savings can reasonably justify six-figure bonuses. At the lower end, the increasing trend of public bodies running fee-earning services easily promotes a culture of performance-related pay, because every pound earned towards public services is worth at least 20p back to the team that earned it.

But in charities, the maths just doesn’t make any sense. I’ve already touched upon the fact that “profit” is a dirty word in the third sector. Any surplus should get turned back into the charity’s services: improving, adding to or expanding them. For some people, the idea of charities having employees is already controversial enough. Six-figure salaries for Chief Executives have been condemned by the media and politicians (I hasten to add that Age UK Gloucestershire’s CEO is nowhere near that). And yet, to thrive, we need to recognize and retain our best performers with, when it comes to the reward fight, one hand tied behind our backs!

How Charities can still deliver rewards during Performance Appraisals

HR practitioners in charities need to be black belts in the field of recognition and reward. The best martial arts masters know that it’s not the size of the opponent that matters. It’s the precise, timely and accurate use of the least possible force that will lay your enemy low. And so it is with recognition and reward: it’s not about the size (or even the existence) of the bonus, because no one works for a charity because of the pay. But by the same measure, people who care want to be cared about.

Precise, timely and accurate recognition, tempered with a clear understanding of what the employee truly values (remember: if it were money, they wouldn’t be working for a charity) is what will fill your employees with that warm and priceless glow of feeling valued.

The way to reward people who care is to give them the opportunity to care more. Now, that doesn’t mean there’s a one-size-fits-all approach. Far from it! But there are some great options:

1. Care Wider. Supervisors and managers often get to do very little hands-on caring, but they can spread themselves wider to enable others to care more effectively, touching the lives of even more people, albeit more lightly. This is often the default resort when thinking how to reward an effective carer: kick them up into management! But has the carer shown a desire to lead? To care for the carers? And are you ready to give them the training, support and investment they will need to spread themselves even thinner?


2. Care Bigger. Caring organizations often have particular clients or contacts whose needs are more than most carers can cope with, but for some, the opportunity to meet the needs of the neediest is a reward. But make sure that the support they get increases accordingly and that they are given the time, space and back-up that will help them care to their full potential.


3. Care Deeper. Some carers want to do more than their role will let them. The very science of caring is what grips them and their need is to understand the people they care for more effectively. In a healthcare context, a porter might want to be a healthcare assistant. A healthcare assistant might want to be a nurse. A nurse might want to be a nurse practitioner. Or any of them might want to do some sort of project to do what they do better and to help others do better as well. This is about the chance to learn and to improve oneself in a way that directly affects the people cared for. It might mean a change in one’s role or job title, but that isn’t always the case. But do you have the budget to invest in deepening people’s skills? If you do, what’s the payback going to be? Don’t let this become an exercise in navel-gazing: it needs to be part of a positive feedback loop.

As a final note, if you’re alert, you might have seen a logical contradiction; because charities won’t pay bonuses or performance-related pay, but will spend out the same (or more) money on training and supporting their best people to do what they do better.

But it’s not a contradiction at all. A pay bonus goes straight to an employee’s wallet and it bypasses their heart. And when your organization’s only concerns are its bottom line, its profit forecast and it billables, that’s fine. But charities can’t work like that. Our bonuses go, via our employees’ hearts, right back to the people we care for.

And if you’d have it any other way, don’t work for a charity!

Author: Editor

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