Performance Evaluations (Part 2): The Church Leader’s Role in Performance Evaluation

by Greg Anderson

Luke 14:28-30

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

In Luke 14, Jesus challenges his followers to count the cost of discipleship. He uses the metaphoric language of estimating the price of construction before building actually begins. The counsel is simplistic, but the implications are profound. After all, if expectations are not clear then the likelihood of long-term residence is greatly jeopardized.

How many leaderships count the cost when filling staff positions? Perhaps an even more important question is, how many leaderships count the cost when investing in sustainable frameworks for long term staff success?

As we mentioned in the previous post, the performance evaluation process begins by working with staff to develop job descriptions. Why is this important? Let’s answer that question by asking another, “How can you know what to measure if you have not articulated measurable outcomes?”

Without a job description in place, leadership actually creates a “ripe for disaster” dynamic.

Without a job description in place, leadership actually creates a “ripe for disaster” dynamic. For instance, if on a seven member governing board, three members expect a staff person to fulfill certain job responsibilities and four expect completely different outcomes, then “ripe for disaster” may be too mild!

A job description allows leaders to identify desired outcomes of the position, and provides clear direction for the staff member who fills that role. Performance evaluation then affirms a staff member’s ability to meet those expectations or provide guidance to help the staff person correct his or her course. When church leaders do not provide job descriptions and performance evaluations, they, (as a friend of mine noted in a recent conversation) “Dangle staff over the jaws of death without showing them what to hang onto.”

Obviously, no job description will capture every subtle nuance of desired outcomes. The goal is not to identify every action an employee takes. The ideal job description spells out:

  • Core responsibilities – Those staff are consistently expected to cover
  • Secondary responsibilities – Those staff are expected to cover when they have additional bandwidth
  • Occasional responsibilities – Those staff are expected to cover on a seasonal or occasional basis (e.g. VBS, Trunk or Treat, etc.)

Once the job description is complete, leaders can then implement performance evaluation measures. Where should we start? In Analysis for Improving Performance, Richard Swanson notes that responsible performance improvement efforts are realized through an orderly process that starts with, “Specifying an important performance goal.”

It is impossible to “specify important performance goals” if A) You have not developed a job description and B) You have not defined successful performance criteria related to job description expectations.

Here’s what that might look like in practical terms:

A staff person’s job description states that the staff member is expected to serve as staff administrator. How then does the leadership know if the staff person is successfully meeting that performance goal? While leaders could attempt to measure “success” by assigning rating scales to every job responsibility within a job description it is more appropriate for the sake of time and sanity to think in terms of rating staff on broader competencies that are required to move the mission and vision of the organization forward.

Since the same staff person may also manage volunteers, follow up with guests, work with other staff members on projects, etc., evaluating the staff person on a general competency such as “Teamwork” is much better stewardship of time and resources. This positions the leadership to establish performance evaluation metrics that may be used to coach employees on 6-8 general competencies (applies to all ministry staff) and 2-4 job specific competencies (applies to specific ministry) versus 20-40 specific job responsibilities within multiple job descriptions.

It is more appropriate for the sake of time and sanity to think in terms of rating staff on broader competencies that are required to move the mission and vision of the organization forward.

Successfully exhibiting the competency of “teamwork” could then be described as:

The staff member works well with others to achieve team goals. He/she:

  • Places team priorities before personal priorities
  • Builds trust with team members
  • Shares lessons learned
  • Defines success in terms of whole team
  • Works with team to achieve shared goals.

Once core competencies have been identified, a leadership can then decide how to rate employees on performance. The approach can be conversational as in an on-going dialogue, or the approach can be more metric driven as in a rating system that defines:

  • Unacceptable
  • Needs improvement
  • Acceptable
  • Exceeds expectations

Regardless of the approach, the performance evaluation should look back on work through the previous six months and work planned for the next six months. Remember, performance evaluation is not about catching staff members doing something wrong. It should be approached from the perspective of Jesus who encourages counting the cost, not shooting the wounded.

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