Evaluations can Kill or Give Life

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Jeromie Jones is the director of ministries at the Avenue.  Here are his brilliant thoughts on year end evaluation!

At the end of the year most people spend some time reflecting on the past twelve months. In the work place there is usually a formalized version of this called a year end review, evaluation, etc. Personally I love this process but I’ve often seen it abused as well. Then when you added in the dynamic of working for a church you get a whole other host of issues that can cause problems with the evaluation process. One of the core beliefs I have is that churches should be better at this than anybody else. We more than anyone are supposed to understand grace, truth, and love. Yet I know so many people who thought they were doing a great job until all of a sudden they were let go. They leave the church bitter, angry, and feeling like they were betrayed by the very people who talk about love and grace the most.  So today I want to look at what year end evaluations are supposed to do, what they should look like, and what they shouldn’t.  Because when done correctly evaluations should energize people for the upcoming year and remind everyone why what they do is so important.

Common Problems with Evaluations

Before we get to the good I want to talk about the bad because most people I talk to seem to be in places where evaluations are done poorly. Here are the most common problems with evaluations.

The Only Evaluation is the Year End Evaluation

Imagine that you are married and once a year you sit down with your spouse to talk about how your relationship is going. Both of you mention some things that need to improve and some strong areas to the relationship. You agree on a few things and the conversation ends. Then you wait twelve months to sit down again and see how things are going. That sounds stupid and it is. But so often we work with a team of people and the only time we really check on how things are going is at the end of the year or when something major goes wrong. I am not suggesting that every week you have to do a written evaluation, but frequent conversations are a must.  It baffles me how often someone in charge will be frustrated with the way things are going but wait for weeks or months until it is “formal review time” to bring it up. Then the employee feels blindsided because the past three months they thought they were doing a good job and all of a sudden they are told that they are failing.  Reviews have to occur more than once a year, even for people doing a great job. Keeping a ship on course means checking the map more than once a year. Keeping employees moving on course means checking in with them more than once a year.

Managers/Bosses who hide behind the Evaluation

This is a derivative of the first problem. There are a lot of people in charge who hate having tough conversations. And so they let something go and go until it is time for the year end review. Then during the review the write down all of the things they were afraid to say weeks ago.  They try to justify their decision to terminate employment or change a situation behind platitudes and empty words when in reality they were simply afraid of having a tough conversation. The problem with this is that in many cases if the tough conversation were had much earlier things could have probably turned out different. Then when you add in the fact that at a church, things much bigger than simply company profits are at stake, this becomes an even worse situation. Letting someone fail for weeks or months not only damages them, it damages the kingdom. People whose lives could be positively affected aren’t because of the lack of courage by a leader.

Evaluations that don’t evaluate the right things

This is one of the most frustrating.  Imagine a person who is knocking out of the park as a youth pastor. Students are coming to Christ, kids are serving one another, parent & child relationships are healing, and the ministry is flourishing. But then the evaluation spends all of the time asking about office hour usage, budget adherence, and personal growth in 25 different categories. Now all of those things are important, very important even. But an evaluation has to actually evaluate what you hired a person for. So often evaluations ask a million questions and none of them relate to the actual job a person is doing. The main reason for this is that people often use cookie cutter evaluations pulled from someplace else that don’t actually address the specifics of the job. Even in the same church the evaluation for a youth pastor and a group’s pastor should look completely different because they do completely different jobs. Answering the same set of non specific questions is easy to create but not helpful to evaluate.

Lack of Clarity about what a Church is doing & How they are Doing It

This one is so common that everyone has a story about it. Every church has a mission statement or set of core values or a vision statement. But what often happens is that no one has ever decided what that looks like in the context of that particular church. Here is a true story that has been slightly changed to protect the innocent. Church X has a statement about reaching the lost. An outreach pastor gets hired in April. He decides that to reach the lost he will train 20 leaders to start a series of neighborhood barbeques and have those leaders start intentionally mingling their believing friends with the non-Christian neighbors. Then the evaluation time comes around and the new outreach pastor is told he isn’t doing a good job. The outreach pastor asks why. He is told that the leadership wanted him to hold an evangelism class on Sunday mornings and to do a big outreach event every spring on the church campus to reach the lost. Based on those criteria the outreach pastor has a bad evaluation. Now here is the problem. Both the methods of the outreach pastor and the leadership focused on fulfilling the mission of reaching the lost. But no one ever clarified from the beginning what that would look like. So once again we run into issues. If you are going to evaluate something at the end of the year make it clear at the beginning of the year. If you think ministry should be done a certain way let people know that up front.

Asking for honest feedback but not wanting it

Every evaluation has some section about feedback from the employee. Many leaders really don’t want it. They say they do but then get hyper defensive when it is received. I am not referring here is someone who writes vulgar, rude, or sarcastic comments. Or a person who says in public what should be said in private. Obviously an employee doing that has larger issues.  I’m talking about when an employee honestly and respectfully points out something that needs to be addressed in a proper setting and then the leadership punishes them for it. When this happens it is only a matter of time before all the great employees start to leave and most of the momentum of the organization stops. Turnover starts to increase and the only people who stay are those who are simply happy to have a job. Leaders who like to evaluate everyone but themselves leave a wake of destruction in their path.

What a Year End Evaluation Process Should Look Like

The main purpose of an evaluation should be to make sure that everyone is aligned and in agreement on what should be happening and what they are pursuing. The conversation around an evaluation should be about gaining clarity for both parties not checking off boxes. Evaluations should be relatively simple process that answering two basic questions. “Are we doing the things we said we would do?” & “Are those things working?”  Almost everything in the evaluation process should connect directly to those questions. A very good evaluation can simply be a one page sheet that says at the top, “What did you do in the past year to advance the mission of values of our organization?” “What will you do next year to advance the mission and values of our organization?” Once the leader and the employee agree on a set of goals, spend the next year measuring progress and course correcting as necessary. This way there are no surprises and feelings of being blindsided.

I’m sure someone is thinking right now, “But what about….” Yes you are correct this leaves a lot of things out. That is on purpose. See evaluations are not supposed to try and cover every scenario. Most things on an evaluation are put there because someone doesn’t want to have a tough conversation so they put it instead on the evaluation.  Frequent conversations trump a lengthy evaluation every single time.

Healthy Ways to Evaluate

  • Evaluate Often Don’t let large amounts of time pass between evaluations
  • Focus on the Mission Make sure that the conversations are about making forward progress. Evaluations that measure anything other than that
  • Focus on the Person Remember that an evaluation is supposed to help a person develop not beat them up. You want your people to succeed and do well. Evaluations that leave people feeling dejected and defeated aren’t helpful to them or to the organization. As church leaders we have to model caring for employees as people not just workers to the rest of the world.
  • Be Clear in What is Expected If you are going to hold them accountable for it, they need to know it.
  • Build Momentum Employees should walk out of evaluations excited and ready to go for another season of ministry. Use an evaluation to reinforce the mission and discuss the values that drive what you do. Most people working for a church could probably make more money doing something else. They chose this for a reason other than income. So harness that during an evaluation and use it to generate new ideas and plans for the next ministry season.
  • Celebrate the Victories If you are a very driven person your tendency might be to simply move on to the next thing. But let people know when they are doing a great job and celebrate. Jesus used the image of feasts and parties often when describing the kingdom. I don’t think that was accidental. Celebrate with your team and enjoy what God is doing.
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