Performance Evaluation: Friend or Foe?


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

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