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Performance Evaluations: Tips, Traps, and Trends
Performance Evaluations: Tips, Traps, and Trends
Staffing & Supervision

Performance evaluations too often become a dreaded annual task that takes a lot of time and effort without providing much value. We hope the tips, traps, and trends below help you refashion your process so that it feels supportive and useful to staff members, their supervisors, and your congregation’s leadership. Additional resources are listed at the bottom of this page.

Tips

  • Be clear about the purpose(s) of your process. Is the evaluation process used to keep staff aligned around the mission, vision, values, and priorities of the congregation? Is it intended to nurture each employee’s growth and development by providing useful feedback? To communicate problems and needs? Let the specifics of your process be guided by what you want to get out of it. Make sure the form isn’t the tail that wags the dog. It isn’t about the form.
  • Avoid an annual once-and-done. An annual review should be in support of an ongoing process of setting and reviewing goals, assessing priorities, and discussing needs in conversations with one’s supervisor. An annual process with little in between is often a reflection of only the last month or two, called “recency bias.” Millennials, in particular, tend to expect and value frequent feedback on their work.
  • Check for bias. What assumptions and/or organizational norms are in play that might unduly favor some staff over others in your process? How can you use your evaluation process to explicitly support staff of color and others of marginalized identities?
  • Discuss and document behavioral or performance problems promptly. Write up the conversation and any recommendations or disciplinary actions taken. Concerns shouldn’t wait for a formal review.
  • Include multiple voices. It makes sense to seek input from a staff member’s coworkers and/or volunteers. A best practice is for the supervisor to collect the input and use it to fashion their own written appraisal and frame a conversation.
  • Goals should be limited in number, with built-in opportunities to revisit and change them. In the words of congregational consultant Dan Hotchkiss, “A long list of priorities is an oxymoron.” Goals and priorities often change over the course of a year. How is this taken into account in your process? 
  • Include competencies, which are desired attitudes and behaviors displayed by staff. Consider common competencies across all jobs that reflect the values you embrace.
  • Honor a job well done. Sometimes it seems that the emphasis is on doing more and more, being better and better, and fixing what’s wrong. Improvement and development are important in almost any job, but make sure there’s plenty of room in your process to celebrate what’s going well and appreciate day-to-day accomplishments.

Traps

  • Spending a lot of time and energy on a review process that has little or no value for your congregation or staff. You should be able to point to how the process helps improve the satisfaction and/or performance of your staff, aids decision-making for leadership, and/or leads the congregation to more effectively fulfill its mission and vision.
  • Springing problems on a staff member during the evaluation process. Any concern you could have shared with the staff member prior to the evaluation should not be saved for the evaluation. The formal review process is an opportunity to check in about concerns previously raised. Similarly…
  • Failing to discuss and document performance or behavioral concerns when they occur. Address and write up problems in a timely manner. 
  • Trying to base compensation decisions primarily on your review process. Instead, as a starting point, you might assume an across-the-board increase that takes into account the change in cost of living. Then you can make adjustments based on UUA recommended ranges and/or local norms, as well as for especially strong (or problematic) staff members. Always check for internal equity – i.e., whether staff salaries “make sense” relative to each other.
  • Assuming that supervisors are skilled in supervising and delivering feedback. Support your supervisors – ministerial and other – by providing resources and/or opportunities for training. Your process “on paper” is only as effective as the people who carry it out.

Trends

  • Clarity and transparency are key. Staff understand why the process is happening, what the process is, and how it is used to support them in their work.
  • The focus is forward. While the process provides a chance to revisit goals and activities, the emphasis is on looking ahead.
  • Career development is regularly discussed. How does this staff member have the potential to grow in their current role? What are their aspirations? Do you see in them the potential to move into a position of greater responsibility or impact, either within your congregation or in our larger faith? How can that be nurtured?
  • Feedback is provided regularly throughout the year. Whether it’s monthly or quarterly, time is set aside between supervisor and staff member specifically to talk about performance – priorities, goals, concerns, needs. Make notes at these meetings and come back to them in future conversations.
  • It’s more about conversation and narrative, and not much about numerical ratings. Something akin to a rating scale might be used for competencies/values, e.g., “consistently observed” to “not observed.” Similarly, for tracking goals, you might use status ratings. In general, though, the most useful feedback comes in the form of dialogue and description.

Resources

There are plenty of articles, templates, and other resources online by doing a search for “performance review” or similar. Here are some resources written with congregations in mind:

  • From our Staffing for Diversity series, we suggest Part V: Ongoing Staff Support.
  • In the article Supervision and Cultural Differences, church consultant Susan Beaumont addresses cross-cultural supervision and performance management with practices that apply to any supervisory relationship.
  • For ministers, Fulfilling the Call: A Model for Unitarian Universalist Ministry in the 21st Century provides a framework for assessing the duties of ministry. The Fulfilling the Call page from the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (UUMA) website includes a link to the Handbook, and also to an Evaluation Tool based on the framework.
  • For assessing the work of ministers and, more broadly, the ministries of congregations, the UUMA gathered this list of Assessment Tools in 2010.

About the Author

  • As Compensation and Staffing Practices Manager in the Office of Church Staff Finances, Jan Gartner helps congregations live out their values through their employment relationships and attends to the financial well-being of their staff. She oversees the Compensation Program,...

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