Evaluating Your Evaluation: Getting to Effective, Safe, and Fair Performance Management

by Laura Schaaf and Tess Vigil | Jan 29, 2024

In our work at Promise54, we regularly hear leaders – at all different levels within organizations – struggle with challenges related to performance management systems:

    • Direct feedback is not shared throughout the year in real-time, leading to surprise and disappointment at formal mid-year and year-end evaluation cycles
    • It’s not clear why some people get promotions and raises and others do not
    • Our performance management process is top-down and not transparent
    • It takes way too long to fill out review forms and the extra work makes it hard to do my actual job
    • I don’t understand why staff won’t complete their performance reviews on time

Between the two of us, we’ve been on the giving and receiving end of a lot of feedback and evaluation processes and had our fair share of concerns about performance management practices — we found them overly time-consuming, confusing, disheartening, or all of the above! What we do know is that it doesn’t have to be this way. It is both possible and necessary to evaluate the evaluation processes themselves and make the changes needed to more fully align them with the organization’s values and intent.

The negative impacts of ineffective or inconsistent performance management practices (informal and formal!) can be substantial for staff: eroded trust, undermined psychological safety, and experiences of unfairness. Moreover, dysfunctional practices around performance management can compound existing challenges for staff with historically marginalized identities – including Staff of Color. Here are a few examples that we’ve witnessed in client work or experienced ourselves:

    • A Black staff member receives regular positive, informal feedback throughout the year about their performance from a variety of peers and supervisors across the organization. During a formal end-of-year review, they receive an abundance of critical, negative feedback from their white manager. They feel surprised and frustrated and wonder if the reason that they are not receiving this critical feedback regularly has more to do with their racial identity than their performance. Alternatively, they wonder if the content of the feedback itself could be because of their racial identity more than their actual performance.
    • A non-binary staff member who experiences low psychological safety with their manager appreciates and relies on a confidential form to provide critical feedback to their supervisor. However, the form requires time which isn’t built into their schedule, making it difficult to give it the care they desire. They end up filling it out quickly, not providing as much detail as they would like about their experiences at work. Partly as a result of not receiving the feedback, the challenges sustain – or worsen – over time, ultimately leaving this staff member wondering whether they will remain at the organization or choose to leave. 
    • A BIPOC individual contributor learns that their white manager will see their feedback (non-confidential) before their end-of-year review. The employee wants to be honest about the substantial challenges they experience to support and enable their manager to improve. However, the staff member worries about potential repercussions: being shut out of future opportunities, being passed over for promotion, or being pushed out because of being perceived as negative, critical, or “angry”. Ultimately, they decide to share only positive feedback to protect their sense of job security and safety at work. 
    • A woman continues to be asked to take on more responsibility by her manager, who identifies as a man. She is not sure if or when this could lead to a title bump or pay raise, because the organization’s promotion scale and staff expectations are not clear, transparent, or codified. She decides to raise this question to her manager and he quickly dismisses it. She’s left feeling confused and undervalued, and wonders if she is being taken advantage of.

Until we joined Promise54, neither of us had seen an organization evaluate — and intentionally work to improve — the very systems used to evaluate and develop staff! Now, we see it regularly both as staff members and as we work to support other social impact organizations across the field.

At their best, performance management practices support team growth and development and help adults thrive so they can do their best work. Processes like goal setting, feedback, coaching, mentoring, professional development – and associated promotions and compensation increases, can help create the safe and fair work environments we strive for. 

In the 54Hub, our new library of downloadable resources, we offer DEI and antiracism-infused performance management tools for leaders to avoid common pitfalls. The Performance Management Systems Metrics resource offers a range of ideas on how to capture and assess the impact of your performance management system through a list of metrics (an articulation of what you are measuring) and associated data points (the outputs of those measurements).

Also included is a Competency & Role Progression Mapping tool. This visual provides an example of how organizations can clearly connect expectations for responsibilities and competencies to differentiated role levels.

These tools are a starting point – they are meant to be customized and adapted to your needs! If you get stuck, need more tailored support, or just have ideas for additional resources that would be helpful – let us know! The 54Hub will be growing over time as we roll out more resources and tools, but in the meantime, we hope these help you create more meaningful, effective, and equitable performance management systems.


Senior Associate


Laura is: a deeply curious person obsessed with people and their stories, an avid reader, a repeat romantic comedy movie-watcher, a gold hoop earrings superfan, and a traveler who loves to be awed by the magic of nature. She journeys through life alongside a loving partner, a practically-perfect pup, and an ever-growing tribe of beautiful people who help keep her grounded and inspired to help build a freer and more just world. Laura’s professional experiences include roles as a facilitator with the World in Conversation Project, an elementary school teacher in Chicago, and a project manager for Chicago Public Schools. Laura holds a BA in Communications from Penn State University, an M.Ed. in Elementary Education from Dominican University, and an MPP from Duke University. 

Contact Laura: laura@promise54.org


Associate Partner


Tess is: a critically conscious Chicana, appreciative daughter, big sister, wife and mother; cisgendered and able-bodied, dedicated to the pursuit of equity and justice. A social critic and constant learner, Tess designs, thrifts, and sews clothes, hoping to curb environmental and human costs of the fashion industry. Tess’ 15+ year career includes teaching various K-12 grades and subjects across public, charter and independent schools, coaching teachers and leaders, and establishing and growing a Culturally Responsive Education team for Denver’s 90,000+ student district. Tess holds a BA from Columbia University and an M.Ed. from Loyola Marymount University.

Contact Tess: tess@promise54.org

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