Principles for Sound Staff Evaluation

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Many people flinch at the mention of evaluation, and with reason. In congregations, staff evaluation often is conducted as a popularity poll with anonymous respondents rating staff performance on the basis of subjective impressions. In effect, the staff members answer to hundreds of semi-invisible bosses who can invent new things to blame them for at any time. This approach raises stress and does little to improve performance. Others dislike staff evaluation because people who are in conflict with a staff member often propose evaluation as a way to express unhappiness.

When evaluation is done well, it clears the air and motivates improvement. Regular evaluation helps to surface issues while the relationship is good enough to make it possible to work on them.

Despite the pitfalls, evaluation is important to effective partnerships, starting from the board and head of staff and moving throughout the staff. Firm boundaries require accountability, and accountability requires an atmosphere in which people give each other feedback. When evaluation is done well, it clears the air and motivates improvement. It can also sharpen awareness of differences between an individual’s sense of calling and the congregation’s emerging vision, leading to adjustment or even to separation. Although a unilateral decision to end a partnership is rarely easy, avoiding problems to postpone the pain makes it no easier.

Regular evaluation helps to surface issues while the relationship is good enough to make it possible to work on them. Effective evaluation is:

  • Scheduled: Evaluation takes place by the calendar, not in response to a problem.
  • Mutual: Everyone gives and receives feedback.
  • Goal-centered: Previously established goals are the basis for evaluation.
  • Individual: Evaluation asks, “Am I meeting the expected standard for my job?” “How am I contributing to our goals?”
  • Collective: “What progress have we made toward our goals?” “How do we need to adjust course?” “How are we fulfilling our vision for this particular program area?”
  • Backward looking: “What did I accomplish?” “How well did we do?”
  • Forward looking: “How can I improve?” “What should we do differently next time?”

Nothing can make evaluation easy all the time. Sometimes difficult words need to be said and heard. But with a healthy process, evaluation can help leaders pull together toward shared goals.

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About Author

Dan Hotchkiss, long-time senior consultant for the Alban Institute, now consults independently on strategic planning, board governance, and staff development. He can be reached through the Congregational Consulting Group.


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