Evaluating Your General Manager in a Public Utility

(This post was written by Rick Dacri, May 28, 2014)

The General Manager’s performance is critical to the success of any public power entity. The selection, development and retention of the right GM—the individual who can lead the organization toward achieving its strategic goals, becomes the primary responsibility of the Light Board. At the same time, the GM’s ability to work collaboratively with the Board is of paramount importance and will determine the success of the GM, the Board and the organization. It is for these reasons that an open dialogue, honest feedback, clear expectations and defined accountability standards must be in place.

Most GMs and Boards understand the value of performance management. Boards want to provide their GMs candid feedback on their performance, allowing the opportunity to address problem areas. They understand that the review process provides an ideal time to clarify roles, expectations, set goals, open communication and enhance the relationship between the Board and GM. The evaluation process ensures that both Board and the GM are in sync on the direction and goals of their organization.

Many organizations differ in their approach to evaluation. When the evaluation process is formalized, it often includes a GM self-evaluation, Board completion of an evaluation form, a review of goals, and an evaluation interview with the chair. Some organizations include a 360-degree review with input from department heads. Compensation decisions are sometimes part of the process, but are frequently handled separately as part of the GM’s contract.

Regardless of the approach, the review process works best when you have clear, agreed-upon purpose. All reviews should include:

  1. More conversation with less emphasis on the form
  2. Clear understanding of the GM’s role
  3. Well defined expectations and goals

Getting good performance from the GM takes more than the completion of an evaluation form. It requires clear job expectations and accountabilities and ongoing communication. While Boards may sometimes find it uncomfortable to discuss performance issues, it is critical to the process. But as with all open dialogue, it can only work when mutual trust and respect exists. When the relationship is positive, one can more easily work through conflicts, disagreements and challenges. Success begins when the GM establishes positive rapport with the Board. Disagreements and healthy debate will happen and frankly should be encouraged and embraced. The basis of most good ideas comes through these types of exchanges. However, it should never come at the expense of the relationship.

The evaluation form itself can often create stumbling blocks and it should never become focus of the appraisal. Asking Board members to complete a long form may not be a good idea and many members may not do it. A process I recommend is the use of an independent third party to interview each Board member and discuss the GM’s strengths, areas in need of development and goals for the up coming period. Each of the comments then can be summarized in a report and presented to the Board, which can then be incorporated into their evaluation, giving the GM candid, but anonymous feedback on performance.

Today, public power face tremendous challenges and Boards expect their GMs to be adept and savvy enough to meet them. Beyond the expected power and business acumen, GMs must have relational smarts. GMs have a lot of bosses. Like a doctor, GMs must be able to take the pulse of the Board, staff and customers and then prescribe the right course of action.

Successful GMs forge strong relations with their Board members, citizen groups and staff. But most of all, they must be clear about the Board’s expectations and mandates, carry them out, and ensure their success. Everyone must be on the same page with regard to the organization’s mission, vision, values, direction and strategy.

Evaluating the GM is integral to the success of the organization. It will provide the GM the essential knowledge they will need to drive the success of the business.

Like a well-rehearsed orchestra, when each comes together working in harmony, beautiful music emerges. Evaluating your GM is a key instrument in making this happen.

Rick Dacri works closely with Public Utility Boards, Commissioners and Trustees on board relations, governance, strategic planning, succession planning and recruitment and evaluation of their GM.

Other posts you might like to read:

  1. Succession Plan in Municipalities Assure Steady Flow
  2. CEO & Board of Directors: Forging An Effective Relationship
  3. Protection Against Fraud: Advice of Guarding the Public Purse
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