Pass or Fail?


We all like feedback.  Even when we fear it’s not good.  We generally want to know where we stand.

I’m sure it’s no surprise that I was a studious kid.  I wanted to achieve the best I possibly could, so as the teacher passed out graded assignments I eagerly awaited that circled letter at the top of my paper.

That part of me that longs for approval hasn’t changed much.  I want to know how I’m doing.  I want to know if I’m measuring up.

As I leader, I believe I have a responsibility to give our staff “a grade”.  No, not an A, B or C grade.  Frankly a grade is really the easy way out.  A grade represents feedback and feedback is all about communication.

I firmly believe that one of the most critical components to being an effective staff leader is creating communication with your team.

And while I believe this is critical to my success as a leader, it doesn’t mean that I naturally do it well.  Oftentimes I find that in my haste and busyness I haven’t given the clear direction that  I think I have and I certainly don’t rush into conversations where I need to give construction criticism.

But whether I always like it or not, I’m not helping myself, our staff, or our organization if I’m not committed to providing our team these two key things:

  1. Clear direction
  2. Candid feedback

Most organizations have a system, or at least a form, for performance reviews.  I’ve seen all kinds of different reviews.  I’ve been graded, dictated, manipulated and persuaded in performance reviews.  I’ve worked in organizations that had no written plans at all and then I’ve been in organizations where the system was so formalized and structured it didn’t allow for relationship or conversation of any kind.

While I by no means think that our system at Cross Point is perfect.  I do believe that we’ve created a process that encourages conversation – and conversation is the key wordWithout conversation, performance plans become  rigid, passionless rules that lack motivation and buy-in from your team. Creating conversation is critical to a successful performance plan system.

Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to our performance plan process at Cross Point:

Step 1: The manager writes a vision for the employee for the upcoming year.  The manager shares what he sees as the employees strengths and shares how he feels the employee can uniquely contribute this upcoming year.  This is a motivation piece that doesn’t include “needs improvement” statements or a list of expectations.  While this is a written piece, it is communicated in a one-on-one meeting and is used to generate a conversation about what the employee’s key objectives could be for the next year.  This should be a brainstorming/dreaming session between manager and employee.

Step2: The employee writes a first draft of 5-8 performance objectives and 2-3 development objectives. Performance Objectives are specific, job-related objectives or key accomplishments that represent the most critical things the employee can contribute to the organization in the upcoming year.  Development Objectives are specific, personal goals for the employee.  These are goals that are connected to their job but have more to do with their personal growth and development; ie. leadership skills, technical training, communication skills, etc.

Step 3: The manager reviews the objectives the employee has written measuring them against key criteria:

  • Do these goals meet the SMART criteria – Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Results-driven, Time-sensitive.  Basically, will you be able to clearly state whether the objective has been met or not at the end of the year?
  • Do these goals align with our overall goals and direction as an organization and a ministry department for the upcoming year?
  • Do we have the budget to support these goals?
  • Can I as their manager adequately help them achieve these goals?

Step 4: The manager and employee meet back together to discuss and finalize the performance plan.

Step 5: The employee begins working the plan

Step 6: Every 3 months the manager instigates a meeting with the employee to discuss progress.  At the manager’s discretion adjustments can be made in the plan in the event that circumstances indicate a change in direction or timing.

Step 7: At the end of the performance plan year, the employee and the manager each individually write a summary of each objective.  Then they meet together to compare notes, discuss any discrepancies and wrap-up the plan for that year.

This system is by no means perfect, but it does create the conversations that are so critical to providing clear direction and candid feedback.

Remember, leadership is rarely black & white.  It’s not as easy as scribbling an “A” or “F”.  Leading through “the grey” in performance assessments requires the tough work of communication, but I promise you it’s worth it!

How about you?  What systems or processes does your team have for effective performance reviews?

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  • Ron Edmondson October 6, 2009  

    I love it! I wrote about SMART goals recently. Its a great way to measure results. As churches we consistently battle the mindset that what we do cannot be easily measured.

    Do you have a like-minded friend looking for a job? I could use a Jenni!