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5 Essentials Of An Effective Staff Review

by Nick Blevins

Staff reviews. Personal development plans. 360 evaluations. Peer reviews.

Ugh.

That’s many people’s response when they hear one of those phrases. What do you think of when you hear them?

A review you had one time that did not go well?

An organization you worked for where staff reviews were a meaningless exercise?

Something that might help, but is currently absent from your staff development plan?

An opportunity for your team to grow and develop?

Hopefully it’s the last one. If not, here are five essentials of an effective staff review that I believe will actually help our teams get better.

A focus on development

It should be abundantly clear in a staff review that we really do care about them, and not just the organization. Staff reviews should help the people we lead become better. The goal is not to help them become someone else, but rather to improve who they already are. One way we can do that is to help maximize their strengths while minimizing the impact of their weaknesses. Well-rounded is the goal of a team, not an individual.

It’s important for staff reviews to recognize effort, commitment, and attitude, but to only reward results. That may sound harsh, but when it comes to personal growth, trophies for participation only support the belief that we’ve arrived and no further growth is needed. Deep down, all of us have the desire to improve and we need coaching and accountability to help make it happen.

Formalized process

In some cases, we may have the right goal when it comes to staff reviews, but we simply don’t give them the time and thought they deserve. A review is not the time to “wing it.” It should be planned, thought out, and worked on well before the meeting. A formal process includes putting it in writing. Input from both sides should be saved and stored for reference later on.

Some organizations prefer to develop a common benchmark upon which staff can be graded. It might include staff values, skills, and competencies all employees should exhibit. Formalizing the process communicates how important it is to our organization and provides a history for us to look back on.

Method for gathering as much information as possible

There are few things more frustrating than being evaluated from someone who has very little knowledge of what we do and how we do it. A good staff review system includes gathering as much information as possible. That should certainly include our evaluation of our team members, their self-evaluation, as well as any other input from leaders they work for. One example of this is in the multi-site world with solid line and dotted line reporting (everyone loves two bosses, right?). A good evaluation would ensure both leaders have input in the review.

It’s important when we conduct reviews for us to listen well. An employee’s self perception is important and can provide us with great insight. The review doesn’t always have to be the place where their voice is heard, but it should be heard somewhere. Peer evaluations are helpful at times, but in my opinion should be used on a limited basis and are only as helpful as the peers doing the reviewing. Everyone is not a good evaluator.

Willingness to have hard conversations

Sometimes we allow our desire to be nice or to be liked outweigh the importance of telling the truth. We think of it as loving, not lying. The truth is, it’s not loving at all. Part of a hard conversation may include talking about an issue someone has that affects their work. It could be an issue of health, insecurity, trust, attitude, or anything we may categorize as “personal” and therefore avoid. Avoidance hurts them and the organization.

A willingness to have hard conversations must be coupled with an existing relationship and established trust. Nobody likes to hear something difficult from someone who does not appear to truly care about them. Most of us can think of a supervisor who was truthful and accurate in their hard observations of where we needed to improve, but completely lacked in empathy and care. Don’t be that person.

If multiple hard conversations have occurred, it may be time to move on. The book Necessary Endings is extremely helpful in that case.

Scheduled conversations throughout the year

The previous essentials are all critical if we want to conduct staff reviews that benefit our team and our organization. However, if that conversation only happens once a year I think we’re still missing the boat. Staff reviews should be one part of an overall plan for staff development. That could include quarterly or monthly 1-on-1 meetings where goals and action plans are reviewed. Whatever the rhythm is, my belief is the end of year review should not include any real surprises.

A resource I have found to be helpful in formalizing the process and prioritizing development is develop.me, another great product from the Digerati team at LifeChurch.tv. Like all of their products, it’s free. I like the focus on developing people and that it’s supported by the ability to have objective goals and value goals for team members. In addition to a system for tracking goals and progress, it’s important to implement action plans to reach those goals. Our involvement in creating action plans depends on team’s ability to create and manage those on their own.

As we have tweaked and improved our staff review process over the years, those five essentials stick out as vital components in making reviews effective. We can certainly manage people and resources without having effective staff reviews. In general, most churches could probably benefit from better management. What the Church really needs, however, is better leadership. Staff reviews can be a tool to help lead people to something better.

What does your staff review process look like? Is it getting the results you want?

Nick is the children and student’s team leader at Community Christian Church in Baltimore, MD. Nick is married to a beautiful and talented woman named Jennifer and they have one son named Isaac. You can reach Nick on his blog, or via Twitter.

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