Quality grants programs ensure good outcomes by investing in positive, practical performance intervention strategies. For example, they might make funds available for audits, mediation, training or mentoring, or to provide help in negotiating a variation to the contract. Many grants programs, however, fail to articulate a performance management policy and fail to budget for dealing with performance issues.
The best way to address performance issues is to anticipate them, plan an early intervention, and activate the intervention plan sooner rather than later.
An issues management policy, then, should be underpinned by principles of early intervention, prevention, development, including mentoring and coaching, and recovery.
If the size and profile of your grants program demands it, a risk assessment of each grantmaker-grant recipient relationship during the contract negotiation phase can identify concerns and early intervention strategies that could significantly reduce the risks. For example, if the grant recipient is an emerging organisation and there are concerns about the level of its governance skills, the parties might agree to mentoring for a period of time. If there are concerns about the organisation's capacity to deliver significant milestones in a short timeframe, the parties might agree on early warning triggers.
When developing an issues management policy, you should consider these questions:
- What is your overall approach in dealing with organisations that fail to deliver on critical activities or milestones or act in inappropriate ways? Do you aim to be developmental or punitive?
- Will there be an escalation process if a grant recipient fails to meet several objectives, or fails to meet objectives on several occasions?
- Will your approach vary according to the level of risk and the significance of the breach? If so, how? For example, you might deal with a small, low-risk problem via an email or telephone discussions, and a large problem involving more money with more frequent attention and a more hands-on approach, such as site visits.
- If your general approach to issues management is developmental, what support options will you offer? Training, coaching, mentoring, workshops?
- If your general approach is punitive, what actions might you take in cases of breaches? A termination of contract, clawback of funds, withholding of funds for a period, transfer of auspice?
- Is it clear who deals with issues at what level, and who decides what action will be taken?
- Within a punitive approach, what appeal processes would be appropriate?
- Should there be a point where a developmental approach changes to a punitive one? How will this be identified and implemented?
- Under what circumstances will variations to the contract or agreement be made?
- How are monitoring and reporting linked to evaluations and lessons learnt?
SmartyGrants users: Contract variation information can be collected and/or recorded against applications in SmartyGrants. The most straightforward way to do this is to create a 'Contract Variation' form and have your applicants complete it online. Find out more.
- Imagine the three worst performance nightmares that could beset your program, or be reported to your boss, or be reported in the media - and then develop a strategy for dealing with each. Be prepared. The best outcome is that you don't need to use the strategies.
- Shameless Plug: Buy copies of the Our Community booklet, How To Manage Your Grant After Winning It! and give them out to your grant recipients. (If you don't want to give out the books, buy a copy for yourself and use it to inform your setting up of interactions and expectations with your grantees.) It's in everyone's interests that there be no nasty surprises.