I used to think the most elusive quest in life was understanding the cosmos. That distinction, it turns out, belongs to the task of evaluating employees. It is a challenge to understand the rich and complicated nuances of a good evaluation. Over the years, I’ve oscillated back and forth between doing structured (weekly and monthly) evaluative meetings with staff, to simply using each conversation as an opportunity to supervise; an idea I learned from reading, “The One Minute Manager.” I can’t say that I prefer one method over the other. And, when it comes to having my behavior evaluated, well, all I can say is, I’m not a big fan.
I’m United Methodist. If there is anything United Methodist do well, it is filling out forms. Over my 20 plus years of service, I’ve watched congregational leaders learn to fill out a new form about every four years. Since United Methodist clergy are evaluated by a committee, typically there can be between 4 and 9 people taking a shot at evaluating how one “pastors.” Despite having to learn a new evaluative process every few years, I’m usually able to find some small nugget of feedback that’s useful for my own personal development. I often spend a good portion of the evaluation meeting reflecting with the committee on pastoral identity and how it connects with the congregation’s mission. By the way, some of the people who will be evaluating me in the next couple of months will be reading this blog post!
Let me give you an example. Several years ago, I was told during my annual evaluation, by a committee of nine people, that I need to get out of the office and spend more time with people in the community; what we typically call evangelism. I’m all for it and welcome the feedback. So, in response, I pose these question: What if I don’t attend finance meetings, or trustees meetings, or what if I stop visiting the home bound, or don’t show up at youth group events? Would that be a problem? Well, it turns out the answer is “yes”; it would be a problem. What followed was a rich conversation on the nature of pastoral leadership in the context of that congregation. It’s often the case that when a pastor receives feedback about what they should be doing or shouldn’t be doing, it has more to do with the way the congregation operates as a system then it does about the pastor. It’s true that sometimes pastors need to be more responsible and step up. However, I would venture to say, this is the exception to the rule. All of us are doing the best we can with what we have . . . and all of us can do better, including me.
From a systems perspective, the annual evaluation with the pastor is an opportunity to talk about congregational priorities and mission. When there is a pastoral evaluation, it’s important to begin with the following questions:
- What are the priorities of the congregation?
- What are the guiding and core principles of the congregation?
- What is the congregation’s vision?
- How are congregational leaders evaluating the overall direction of the congregation? What systems are in place to measure the progress?
- In what way is the pastor responsible for leading the congregation in these areas? What is the pastor not responsible for?
- What are congregational leaders responsible for? What are they not responsible for?
Of course, there are certain areas of evaluation that are unique to clergy across multiple contexts. For example, "Is the pastor relational?" Are they able to relate to everyone in the congregation? But this leads to others questions like: What does it mean to be relational? The word relational is an elusive term in which the definition could look different in different contexts. Who gets to decide the criteria and how is the criteria different in different situations? Or, is the idea of being relational somehow universal?
For several years, the denomination I belong to invested money into a research program called KSAP which is an acronym for knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal characteristics. The result was a multi-level assessment of clergy effectiveness. The purpose of the research was to list the specific things a clergy person needed to know or do to be effective. There is a total of 53 items on the KSAP for clergy. It seems a bit inhumane to assess anyone at 53 levels of effectiveness. Indeed, the researchers observed that, out of all the vocations they researched, clergy had the highest number of total KASPs.
An issue of motivation.
When supervisors engage in evaluating their employees, most often the goal is to help the employee grow and develop. Ask any supervisor, and they will tell you that the best context for an evaluation is where the employee is motivated to grow.
When clergy get into trouble, it often comes down to an issue of motivation. Clergy, who under-perform or create a frenzy in the congregation, lack the motivation to be more responsible. (We can now add motivation to the list of things that are elusive.) As Dr. Dan Papero often says, “You can’t make a bean grow faster by pulling on it.” Motivation is not something that comes from the outside. You can try to will it for others, but typically nothing will happen until the person finds their internal motivation.
We all struggle with motivation. Some struggle more than others. When I struggle with motivation, or when I feel stuck, these are some of the questions I consider:
- What is important to me? What am I trying to accomplish?
- What efforts have I made to accomplish these things?
- What have I tried? What has worked? What hasn’t worked?
- What are my stumbling blocks? What are the problems I face?
- What am I afraid of? Is my perception of my fears accurate?
- What is happening in the relationship system that might be creating anxiety in the system?
- How does the relationship system pull me away from what’s important to me?
- How can I engage my own thinking when the relationship system is anxious?
- What strengths are available through the relationship system?
The relationship system is a source of strength.
A good evaluator focuses first and foremost on being the best self and leader they can be. This includes being clear about their role as a supervisor and having clarity about the purpose of evaluating others. It's about being a good thinker. Supervisors who work on, what Murray Bowen called, differentiation of self create healthier work environments.
A good supervisor avoids blaming or labeling employees as problematic. When a supervisor encounters problematic behavior they sit down with the employee and ask good questions:
- How does the employee think about the problem? How do they define it and think about it?
- What is the employee doing to address the problem? Is it working for them?
- What is factual (objective) about their understanding of the problem? What is more subjective thinking about the problem?
- How does the supervisor see the problem? What insights can they bring to the conversation?
- Are there anxious circumstances going on inside or outside of the organization that might be contributing to the problem? How can one think about the problem from a systems perspective?
When there are problems with the behavior of an individual, a good supervisor sees the problem from a systems perspective. This means taking into account the behavior of everyone, not just the one employee. It may include things that are happening outside of the organization. A good supervisor thinks about how they (the supervisor) are contributing to the problem. The supervisor reflects on ways they can act differently to be more responsible for their part of the problem. No one wants to work in an environment where individuals are blamed and shamed for their behavior. Taking responsibility for managing one’s self is the first step towards effective supervision and a better evaluation process.