Archive for July, 2010


Performance Evaluation: Friend or Foe?

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Several colleagues have asked for my response to an interview that took place on NPR last week titled, “Annual Job Review is Total Baloney”.  I imagine that many of you heard or read the interview as well. The interviewee was UCLA business professor Samuel Culbert who claims that annual performance evaluation is dishonest and fraudulent, and represents plain bad management. Culbert argues that “nothing would be better than something” when it comes to the practice of the annual job review.

I seem to run across this argument in articles or interviews several times a year. Interestingly enough, such arguments always seems to be associated with the promotion of a new publication, one that is heralded as  a totally new take on performance management. Such is the case with Samuel Culbert. In his interview Culbert argues for the use of open straight talk and “performance preview” as an alternative to performance review. I haven’t read Professor Culbert’s book, but his arguments in the interview sure do sound like an attempt to assign new language to long standing principles of good performance management. I’m not sure there is anything new here. Effective performance management involves setting clear expectations about what we are looking for from our employees, providing regular feedback on how employees are doing compared to our expectations and creating open forums of communication between supervisors and employees about how to improve performance effectiveness.

Here’s what I agree with in Culbert’s arguments. Performance evaluation that is done poorly can be devastating to employee motivation and can seriously damage the employment relationship. We should obliterate the practice of bad performance review in our organizations.

Here’s where I think differently. Performance evaluation, when done effectively, is a vital and critical step in the overall performance management of our congregations. There are certain things that happen in an annual performance process that can’t fully happen in any other kind of feedback conversation.

The annual performance evaluation invites a supervisor and employee to get on the same page about overall role expectations. Once a year the review allows us to look at the overall role, what it requires and how it relates to other roles on the team. The employee and supervisor can take a big picture look at how the role has evolved over the past year, and how it might need to evolve in the coming year.

In 1997 the Gallup organization conducted a major research study, involving over 28,000 employees to determine what employees seek in their work environments. Twelve critical factors were identified. The number one factor that employees reported as being most important to a productive and happy work environment was this: Do I know what is expected of me in my job? The annual performance review is the place where supervisors and employees can most clearly establish this expectation.

The annual performance review can approach the developmental aspects of an employee in more profound ways than weekly, or even quarterly, conversations can accomplish. Once a year it is helpful to do an accounting of where the employee stands in the embodiment of their vocation.  Where am I in my relationship with the congregation, my role and my vocation since this time last year?

The annual review process invites supervisors and employees to reflect upon the overall direction setting of the congregation, and each employee’s responsibility for the strategic initiatives of the congregation. As part of the annual review process supervisors and employees can set performance goals and expectations for the upcoming year. The annual alignment of employee goals helps to insure that the overall strategic direction of the congregation (as set forth by the governing body) is appropriately embodied in the life of the staff team

Tracking Membership

Monday, July 5th, 2010

The role of membership director is one of the most confused roles that I encounter in large congregations. Is it an administrative role or a programmatic one? Is it mostly about tracking people, their giving and their whereabouts, or is it about developing programs of assimilation and membership? And how is the role related to discipleship, stewardship and leadership development?

Most very large congregations have a staff person devoted to managing/developing the membership base of the congregation. Once a congregation passes a certain threshold the clergy team of the church can no longer keep track of who all of the people are, and how they are assimilating into the life of the congregation.  Arlin Rothauge’s early work on size transitions in congregations helped us to understand that a singular pastor maxes out at tending congregant relationships once the average worshipping community passes 150. A congregation can add additional clergy staff and each addition can also tend another 150 relationships. However, at some point adding additional programmatic clergy doesn’t effectively tend to the welcoming and assimilation function of the congregation. People begin falling through the cracks. New people arrive and stick around for awhile, only to disappear out the back door before really becoming assimilated into the life of the congregation. The sheer volume of relationships at work in the large congregation requires a more systematized way of tracking people and creating programmatic venues for assimilation, membership and leadership development.

One of the most complicated things about the role is the way that it seems to emerge and then evolve over time. Typically, when the congregation engages 600-800 in average weekend worship attendance, the need emerges for better management of the assimilation function. When the role first emerges it is almost always placed on the administrative side of the staff team and it is almost always staffed part time. The staff member spends most of their time developing a reporting system to track participation and membership and to better manage the welcoming function at weekend worship. The position is usually staffed by a lay member of the congregation who knows a lot of people and cares deeply and passionately about the mission of the congregation. As the congregation continues to grow past the 800 mark, the demands on the membership role become more significant and the role begins to require more than the original occupant can supply. A more sophisticated program of assimilation needs to be developed that can guide the footsteps of a first time visitor from the first point of entry until they are a fully engaged member, participating in the leadership life of the congregation.  In the very large church the membership staff role is responsible for the welcoming function, membership classes, and early work in discipleship and stewardship. Sometimes the development director is housed under the pastoral care arm of the staff team, and sometimes under the education arm.

In many of the large congregations I’ve worked in recently the Membership Director is suffering from an identity crisis: where do I fit on the staff team and exactly what is it that I am supposed to be doing? The lack of clarity about what the role is meant to accomplish creates a great deal of role conflict (and resulting stress) for the occupant of the role.

I wonder why this particular staff role is so much more conflicted than any other role in the large congregation. A youth director, a director of worship, a children’s ministry director…all of these roles are pretty consistent from one congregation to the next. Why is this role configured so radically different from one congregation to the next?

Photo Credit: Reese Photography