Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Taking the Fear Out of Performance Reviews


When I worked for a state Baptist convention, one of my responsibilities was to do annual “performance reviews” with staff both in my office and in the field.  I quickly came to realize that many of our staff dreaded these annual discussions.  One told me that when these reviews first started (before my tenure) that he got physically ill prior to his annual performance review!

After doing these evaluation sessions over two decades, I learned a lot about taking the fear out of performance reviews—both for myself and others.  For one thing, I tried to think of these as collaborative conversations in which I was an active participant.  As I talked with the staff member about his or her work, my role as a leader and supervisor was also under review.  I tried to keep in my mind this question:  “What does this person need from me to do a better job?”

As I think back, I realize that in many ways I was moving toward a coaching approach in these meetings.  In Growing Agile Leaders, Bob Dale defines coaching in this way:  “Coaching is a growth-oriented, strategic relationship.  Coaching links two peers, equals who are in distinct roles, to collaborate as though partners and to find the way forward for the person being coached.” 

Good leaders know that they are only as good as the people with whom they work.  They seek to invest in the abilities, gifts, and ideas of others.  Although in the strictest sense coaching is focused on the agenda of the person being coached, supervisors can use coaching techniques to advance the agendas of both the organization and the staff person in a collaborative relationship. 

Pastor Andy Stanley understands this.  In a recent podcast titled “Five Questions to Help Leaders Perform More Effectively,” Stanley suggests the use of these questions to guide and evaluate those one supervises:

1. What are you most excited about right now?
2.  What do you wish you could spend more time on?
3.  What's most challenging for you right now?
4. is anything bugging you?
5.  What can I do to help?

Of course, Stanley’s approach is that every meeting with a staff member is an opportunity to both evaluate progress and to coach that person, so all of these questions are not used every time.  They come into play at the appropriate time in the work of the staff member.

By using these open-ended questions, the supervisor is inviting the staff member to do deeper, be more reflective, and be more vulnerable.  This works only if the staff member sees the supervisor as trustworthy, committed to the staff and the organization, and willing to listen without judgment.

A good leader wants the best both for the organization and for those who serve it.  When seen as a collaborative relationship, the conversations between supervisor and staff member can be less threatening for both.


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