How to Conduct an Executive Performance Review: Templates and Best Practices
Your company already has a system for the performance review of individual contributors and managers. But what about the executives of your company?
In the high-stakes world of executive leadership, performance reviews are more than routine evaluations – they are pivotal milestones, potentially profoundly impacting the organization's results.
This article is your compass in the intricate journey of executive performance reviews—packed with templates, best practices, and expert insights on navigating the unique challenges of evaluating those at the helm.
You'll get the tools and knowledge to establish a fair, transparent, and effective performance review process for executives that drives organizational success and executive development.
🕵️♀️ 3 Unique challenges in executive performance reviews
Executive performance reviews differ significantly from standard employee evaluations and even from assessments where regular managers participate due to a couple of key factors:
Dealing with the high stakes, complexities, and sensitivities involved
Leaders tend to handle multifaceted roles encompassing strategic decision-making, fostering innovation, managing stakeholders, and setting the organizational culture. Hence, executive reviews should deeply consider how leadership strategies align with and drive the broader corporate strategy — a level of analysis rarely present in standard employee evaluations.
For instance, if regular manager assessments typically focus on day-to-day performance, executive evaluations need a more holistic view, considering individual achievements and their impact on the entire company ecosystem.
Since these reviews heavily influence the organization's future trajectory, the stakes are significantly higher compared to assessments for regular employees. Therefore, ensuring objectivity is crucial in executive reviews due to their high impact on the organization.
Ensuring executives are driving the company's strategic objectives
Executive reviews emphasize strategic alignment, vision, and long-term goals impacting the entire organization. In contrast, standard employee appraisals often concentrate on individual tasks and short-term objectives.
Assessing executives involves evaluating their impact on the company's overall direction, growth, and market positioning, which goes beyond the scope of most employees' roles.
Relevant stakeholders (Board members) may lack the proximity or insight to offer feedback
Executives often miss out on getting the feedback they really need. Joan Garry, who's an expert in coaching executives, points out that these leaders don't always get the support or the constructive pointers that can help them grow in their roles:
"In my executive coaching work with clients, it is so clear to me that Executive Directors do not receive the feedback they need to feel supported and to grow and develop in their roles."
The people who should be giving feedback to executives, like Board members, might not be close enough to the day-to-day operations to give helpful advice. Or, they may feel hesitant to share honest feedback with someone in such a high position.
This lack of detailed, regular feedback can leave Executive Directors without a clear understanding of their performance, impeding their professional development.
Therefore, you will need to create a structured approach to executive performance reviews, ensuring comprehensive, honest, and regular feedback.
The final goal is fostering an environment where continual learning and development are not just encouraged but ingrained in the leadership culture.
➡️ Grab our expert advice for giving effective feedback to employees and learn how to properly collect and use anonymous employee feedback for executive performance reviews.
🧩 5 Key components of effective executive reviews
Effective executive reviews typically encompass the following key components:
- Clear role expectations and accountabilities: Your executives should have clear job descriptions, roles, and responsibilities aligned with the organization's strategic goals. Use these as a point of reference.
- Objective performance metrics: Executives work toward achieving specific business objectives. You can assess their performance against the progress against goals and OKRs.
- Qualitative assessments: For a more comprehensive evaluation of an executive's performance, we recommend running assessments starting with peers and direct reports.
- Clearly communicated performance evaluation method: Your executives should stay in the loop with the timeline and components of the system. The last thing you want is blindsiding them with an impromptu evaluation. As a bonus tip, ensure your preferred performance management system remains adaptable to changing organizational needs and industry trends.
- Alignment with long-term goals: Keep the organizational strategy and success front and center of the evaluation. Your executives are ultimately responsible for your company's success, so their vision for the future is highly relevant for assessing their performance.
Mark A. Pfister, CEO and Chief Board Consultant of M. A. Pfister Strategy Group, highlights seven core thematic elements that a C-level review should cover:
He also suggests additional factors, such as e ESG, risk, and human capital.
➡️ Not sure where to start? Get the best performance review questions and adapt them to the needs of your executive performance review process so they'll suit every individual.
📝 Executive director performance evaluation templates
County of Santa Clara's Executive Leadership Performance Evaluation template
This Executive Leadership Performance Evaluation template from the county of Santa Clara thoroughly breaks down several key components of an evaluation process, starting from a self-assessment and getting the executive to identify their goals for the following year.
This template is excellent for getting executives to look beyond their progress and tap into the changes they want to see for their own department, leadership, vision, and inspiration.
Finally, a supervisor is asked to chime in and validate this self-assessment.
The Management Center's sample ED performance evaluation form
This performance evaluation form from the Management Center is structured in four parts by logically progressing through:
- the results achieved;
- how they were achieved;
- future plans;
- and a mix of feedback for Board and board self-reflection.
Compared to the previous template, this one uses a Likert scale to analyze whether the executive's performance met expectations.
➡️ Find out which performance rating scale would work best in your case by considering regular executive responsibilities and your performance review goals.
Executive Director Performance Appraisal from the Board & Administrator for Administrators Only journal
This Executive Director performance appraisal template ingeniously breaks down the executive review process into every individual's core responsibilities.
This approach allows for both self- and board ratings to reflect upon the details of an executive's performance by looking at past performance and results.
Executive performance review template | Zavvy Template
We designed this Executive Performance Review Template to provide a comprehensive framework for evaluating the performance of senior leaders within your organization.
It combines self-reflection, multi-source feedback, and strategic planning to offer a holistic view of executive performance.
It also guides executives in setting meaningful future objectives and developing a robust strategic plan for personal and professional growth.
We also included key tips for your reviewers, since we know that not all would be familiar with reviewing an executive. By following these preparation tips, reviewers can ensure they provide a comprehensive, fair, and valuable executive performance review that supports both the executive’s development and the organization's strategic objectives.
➡️ Grab our recommended executive performance evaluation form to skip the prepping and focus on the actual process.
🏆 8 Best practices for conducting performance reviews for executives
Now that you've got the template ready, it's time to tweak your performance review process for executives.
Here are our top best practices:
Ensuring a common understanding of performance criteria
Communicate expectations early and regularly remind executive of these criteria to ensure they understand what's expected of them and how their performance will be assessed.
You should also collaborate with executives themselves to set clear, measurable goals aligned with organizational objectives. Start by establishing specific metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate success, ensuring executives understand how their performance will be measured.
Sharing regular feedback
Set up periodic review meetings throughout the year, providing opportunities for consistent feedback. These sessions should occur at strategic intervals to address progress, challenges, and opportunities for improvement.
Don't forget about the importance of real-time feedback. Besides promoting a culture that relies on feedback, you could acknowledge achievements promptly to reinforce positive behaviors and contributions. Plus, address issues or provide positive reinforcement in real-time rather than waiting for scheduled review meetings.
➡️ Learn how to effectively give constructive feedback to executives and get 145 examples of leadership performance review phrases to transform leadership at your company.
The classic advice of sharing performance expectations openly and consistently with executives and avoiding ambiguity applies to executives, too.
Plus, you'll want to ensure they have access to a clear outline of the steps and timeline for the review process so they'll know what's next.
Involving various stakeholders
Make 360-degree feedback a must in your executive performance review process! Gather feedback from various stakeholders, including peers, subordinates, board members, and external partners. This provides a comprehensive view of the executive's performance and impact.
Add peer assessments by encouraging fellow executives to assess (even if anonymously) the executive's collaboration, communication, management style, and impact within the organizational ecosystem.
These insights will further provide a lateral view that complements feedback from superiors and subordinates.
Including a self-assessment
Self-assessments encourage critical thinking and give executives time to reflect on achievements, challenges, strengths, areas for growth, and their contributions to the organization's objectives. Beyond this, self-assessment aids in identifying personal strengths and weaknesses, allowing executives to take ownership of their growth.
➡️ Drop an eye over 60+ self-evaluation leadership examples to inspire current and future leaders.
As you might have noticed, a lot of the templates above included a final board evaluation for this self-assessment, too.
Board members bring an independent perspective, assessing the executive's performance from a governance standpoint.
So, these evaluations can assess the executive's alignment with the Board's strategic direction and objectives.
Taking advantage of tools and platforms that facilitate effective and fair evaluations
Leveraging specific tools and platforms can significantly streamline the executive performance review process while ensuring objectivity and fairness. The right tool can do everything from running 360 feedback processes to tracking goals and ensuring you can provide continuous feedback!
➡️ We've already tested 11 performance management tools that can help you accelerate employee growth and development. Check out out analysis.
Considering the strategic nature of executive roles for picking a frequency
The frequency of executive performance reviews can vary based on organizational needs, industry dynamics, and the pace of change within the company. Generally, though, organizations run them on a quarterly or annual basis.
We're fans of bi-annual and continuous check-ins. Opting for bi-annual or quarterly reviews will provide more frequent feedback and course corrections. This is especially useful in fast-paced industries where rapid adjustments and realignment are necessary. While these will give the formal feedback you need, you don't want to skip on ongoing feedback.
Continuous check-ins enable a more dynamic approach, allowing for real-time adjustments and developmental discussions. This is a prerequisite to fostering a culture of continuous improvement and agility in responding to changing market conditions.
Measuring the qualitative aspects of executive performance
360-degree feedback is one surefire way to get accurate qualitative insights into the executive performance review.
You can pair this with behavioral assessments or psychometric tools to gauge leadership traits like adaptability, empathy, and resilience.
Alternatively, you can look at actual metrics and results. Evaluate executives' past decisions, analyzing the decision-making process, rationale, and outcomes. Assess the quality of decisions based on risk management practices, evaluating the alignment of decisions with strategic objectives.
Also, look at outcomes by measuring the success or failure of decisions against predefined criteria and their impact on the organization.
➡️ Download our free leadership competency model template to get a comprehensive list of 23 leadership competencies with over 250 behavioral indicators, performance metrics, and KPIs to assess your leader's mastery of each competency.
➡️ Tailor the performance reviews for top leaders with Zavvy: Ensure strategic success
If executive performance reviews feel impossible, an automated system will remove the hard work and ensure that executives get a fair assessment.
It all gets easier with Zavvy!
Zavvy is a performance development software that makes implementing continuous development a breeze. We offer many different functionalities for employee and executive enablement:
- 🎯 Establish clear objectives and key results (OKRs) and goals that align with the company's objectives, emphasizing performance. Consolidate these goals with performance reviews and growth plans into a centralized platform for a comprehensive overview.
- 🔁 Conduct equitable 360-degree performance evaluations without the hassle of scattered spreadsheets and overwhelmed managers handling the process.
- 🤫 Gather confidential employee feedback—through company-wide surveys, peer-to-peer performance input, or any other form. You dictate the questions, fostering transparency and ownership of the process.
- 📊 Evaluate and refine leadership skills by merging competency models, 360-degree feedback, and AI-driven developmental pathways.
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Do executives have performance reviews?
Yes, executives often undergo performance evaluations, but the structure and formality of these reviews can vary widely among organizations. While many companies have formal systems for executive performance reviews, some may have less structured or more informal processes.
What does a CEO performance review look like?
A CEO's performance review comprehensively assesses their leadership, strategic direction, and impact on the organization's success. While formats vary, a typical outline encompasses a look at their leadership effectiveness, tracking business performance, analyzing organizational impact, reviewing external relations and stakeholder management, and planning succession.
What are KPIs to measure executive performance?
Some common KPI categories used to measure executive performance include revenue growth, cost reduction, market share, productivity metrics, and a general alignment with organizational goals. For instance, you'd be looking at HR-specific metrics such as employee engagement or customer support, such as customer satisfaction or retention.
➡️ Learn how to set KPIs correctly for your employees, managers, and executives.