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What gets measured gets managed

I recently read the anonymous ‘confessions of a charity professional’ entitled ‘I wish someone had kicked me up the arse for wasting charity time and money’ on the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network. What struck me is that this is not so much a comment on the charity sector, but on poor performance management in general. I don’t think this is necessarily exclusive to the charity sector – there are plenty of stories of poor management in the private sector as well.

The challenge in the charity sector with performance management is determining what ‘value’ you are creating. In the private sector this is easy – you are looking to maximise profits – but this is not so clear in the charity sector. It’s not enough to simply look to increase turnover – what if the programmes you are running are not actually making a difference to the very people or issue you are looking to address?

The start of this process is to be clear on your charity’s overall objectives – what social issue are you looking to address. From this you can then establish how your charity intends to address this – what activities will you undertake. A really powerful way to cover all of this is a Theory of Change, which maps long term objectives and the intermediate steps to achieve this. Next comes identifying the milestones you will use to assess whether or not you have succeeded.

What does this look like in practice?

ThinkForward works to support young people at risk of becoming unemployed when they leave school, to make a successful transition into work or higher education. Through a Theory of Change – facilitated by our founders, Impetus-PEF – we established that our long term objective is to ensure young people are in sustainable jobs or training by the end of the programme. ThinkForward works with young people over five years from age 13 and we could not simply wait five years to see if we were successful. We therefore identified – through reference to existing research – what young people would need in order to be more likely to make a successful transition – this includes:

  • having a Level 2 (equivalent to 5 x GCSEs at grades A*-C) or Level 3 qualification (equivalent to 2 A levels)
  • improved behaviour and attendance at school
  • having opportunities such as work experience placements
  • undertaking CV and interview practice

We collect data in all these areas (and more) to track young people’s progression.

We have also designed the activities undertaken by our staff with young people to contribute to improvements in specific areas, and staff record each time they undertake a specific activity with a young person.

Based on all the above, we are able to set individual staff objectives which are linked to the broader organisational objective and programme design. We are able to set SMART targets based on young people’s achievement of the above intermediate outcomes and/or the staff’s delivery of scheduled activities. As part of our appraisal process, we are then able to assess staff performance against these SMART targets.

The hard part of effective performance management of staff in the charity sector, then, is not the actual objectives and objectives – there are plenty of management books written on this. If charities are not using some of this, then this is simply poor management. What IS undoubtedly difficult is defining what social issue you are looking to address, how your charity is going to address this and what data you will use to track progress.

The hard part of effective performance management of staff in the charity sector, then, is not setting their individual objectives. What IS difficult and what needs to come first is defining the social issue you aim to address, what your charity’s mission is or how you are going to address it and what data you will use to track progress.

– Luke McCarthy lukemccarthy.com