Why Year-End Evaluations Rarely Help Leaders Grow


Lovett H. Weems, Jr., explains why year-end performance evaluations are insufficient to help people grow and improve. While year-end reviews are important, ongoing feedback that occurs “along the way” during the course of the year is not only less anxiety producing; it is also more effective in helping someone do their job better.

Year-end reviews are common for most of us. Everyone understands that they are important, but rarely do those being reviewed or those doing the reviewing look forward to the task. One reason is that we have trouble remembering when these evaluations have produced beneficial results for either.

If you are not receiving the feedback you need, ask for it from those who know you well and have your best interests at heart. Opening the lines of communication will produce multiple benefits and strengthen relationships.

Year-end reviews are only as effective as what has happened throughout the year leading up to the review. Here is where understanding two types of evaluation can help.

Formative Evaluation

Formative evaluation is intended for growth and occurs when no decisions need to be made. This is feedback that you receive “along the way” during the course of the year. It may come in check-in sessions or informal conversations.

The only goal of formative evaluation is helping you improve and succeed. Remember, no decisions are made or judgments recorded. For example, no promotion or salary level or new work setting is dependent on formative evaluation.

Formative feedback is what all of us need most because it makes growth more likely. Such feedback normally comes from a trusted source who has your best interests at heart. Formative feedback helps you know specifically what you can do differently to improve. There is no fear or anxiety about your future to distract from the goal of growth.

Summative Evaluation

Formative evaluation needs to be supplemented with summative evaluation. Summative evaluation is a more formal review that normally results in a decision, report, recommendation, or other assessment. This is the classic year-end evaluation.

Summative evaluation has a place, but it is not where growth tends to occur. Any time a decision is to be made, the person under review usually can hear nothing but what the decision is. So summative reviews are necessary, but we should not expect them to be a catalyst for change — unless they are connected to a healthy dose of formative feedback along the way.

If a concern comes up in your year-end evaluation that is new for you, then the process has failed. If you are regularly late for work, for example, the year-end review is not the place for the concern to surface for the first time. If such an issue remains a problem after formative feedback, then it will come as no surprise to you when it shows up on the year-end agenda.

80/20 Formula

There is no magic formula for the right balance of formative and summative feedback. Using 80 percent formative and 20 percent summative is a good goal. Remember, formative is for change and growth. Summative is for drawing conclusions, making decisions, and rendering judgments. Unfortunately, this ratio is probably reversed in the practices of the church.

Just think about everything that comes at about the same time that year-end reviews are done. Not only must these review reports be submitted, but often salary recommendations come about this time. And for some pastors, this is the time when churches make their wishes known about the continuance of the pastor. No wonder those under review miss the nuances of the feedback they are offered. Too much is compressed into an annual evaluation. The “feedback for growth” component easily is lost. As committees prepare for these year-end reviews, they often realize that the formative work has been neglected throughout the year.

A Way Forward

Think about how you give and receive feedback throughout the year. Are you receiving the feedback you need to improve? What about those who look to you for feedback? Are you sharing with them thoughtful critique and suggestions that can help them grow?

It is important to keep in mind that there are crucial criteria for sharing feedback with others for their improvement and growth. The quality of the conversation and the level of trust among those involved make all the difference. Remember, you are always talking “with” someone, not “to” them. Unless we feel the other person genuinely cares for us and wants the best for us, hearing criticism is too difficult and will be ineffective.

If you are not receiving the feedback you need, ask for it from those who know you well and have your best interests at heart. Opening the lines of communication will produce multiple benefits and strengthen relationships. Your desire to know what others think will go a long way toward creating an environment in which formative feedback is given and received with appreciation.

Then year-end reviews can go from covering a long list of complaints that have built up all year and can become a way to affirm strengths, identify places for growth, and set goals for the coming year. Those goals can then become the starting point for the next year’s work and the next summative review.

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About Author

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems Jr. is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.

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