5 Tips for Effective Staff Evaluations

  • 6 March 2017
  • Randy Wollf

men listening and talkingEffective staff evaluations do not focus on critiquing past performance, but rather supporting, encouraging, and guiding staff members into even greater ministry effectiveness in the future. Taking time to assess past performance can translate into future growth for both the staff person and the organization. Growing leaders grow healthy organizations. 

Here are five tips to help you make the staff evaluation process as beneficial as possible:

Tip #1 - Focus on Strengths

How many staff evaluations end up focusing on weaknesses? We identify a key weakness and then expect the staff member to devote considerable time and energy to strengthening that “growth area.” Of course, we all need to shore up areas of weakness that may be hindering us from really moving a ministry forward. However, this can be very discouraging for a staff member if taken too far (not too many people like to focus on their weaknesses for prolonged periods of time). It also doesn’t account for the role of team members who may be able to offset the staff member’s weaker areas. In my blog, Four Reasons Why You Should Invest in Your Strengths, I argue that focusing on strengths often results in much higher returns within a ministry while helping staff members feel engaged in their work.

How do we focus on strengths during a staff evaluation process? We obviously want to identify both strengths and weaknesses. Then, we need to prayerfully discern which weaknesses need more work or added support from others. Finally, we want to affirm strengths and lay out plans to maximize and use them even more in the future. My goal is that staff members would spend at least 80% of their time operating in areas of strength (this includes post-evaluation learning and work activities, too).

Tip #2 - Treat Evaluation as an Ongoing, Relational Process

We often think of staff evaluations as the formal “annual review.” Formal evaluations are good and yet they do not capture in a timely fashion the subtle shifts in people’s thinking, personal growth, and performance. As a staff supervisor, I want to have a close relationship with my staff. I’m constantly watching and listening for signs of dissatisfaction, frustration, fulfillment, and longing. I try to regularly ask staff members how they are doing personally and professionally. I also make sure that I’m spending time praying with my staff one-on-one. As we share prayer requests, we often learn what is giving the other person life and what’s weighing them down.

Tip #3 - Do Structured Debriefs Regularly as Part of a Coaching Process

I realize that it is difficult to coach more than 3-5 staff members. However, a close, coaching relationship provides a regular forum for doing structured debriefs where staff respond to specific questions about their life and ministry. You can pose some initial questions verbally or have staff members fill out a short questionnaire before you meet (you would then ask follow-up questions based on their responses). 

Here are some questions that staff could think about ahead of time:

  • What excites you about your ministry right now?
  • What are some challenges that you’re currently facing?
  • What has God been teaching you lately?
  • How can I help you with work or in your personal life?
  • How are you trying to use your strengths more and more?
  • What is something you'd like us to focus on when we meet next?

Note: For more on coaching, check out The Five Stages of a Structured Coaching Conversation and Why Being a Mentor Isn’t as Scary as You Think.

Tip #4 - Conduct More Formal Evaluations Once a Year

It’s important to do formal evaluations because it allows other people (besides members of the staff team) to speak into the staff person’s life. Invite people who are part of the staff member’s ministry to do the evaluations. I like to use online surveys (the How to Write Surveys that People Actually Want to Take article will help you design a solid survey). I will typically ask respondents to assess the staff person’s spiritual life and ministry/work skills. I’m also interested in knowing people’s perceptions about how well the person is carrying out their ministry role (I will tie this to the staff member’s job description). The questions in these categories are quantitative with a rating scale. Then, I like to ask some open-ended questions that get respondents to identify strengths and weaknesses, and to assess the person’s fit for their current role. Here's a staff evaluation survey that I've used in the past (feel free to use this as a template).  

In addition to this external evaluation, it’s helpful to have the staff person do a self-assessment (you can use this document that I've developed). I often use the same quantitative questions that are in the external evaluation survey, but add several more open-ended questions that give the staff member an opportunity to share more deeply about their life and ministry.

Tip #5 - Make the Evaluation Process Future-Oriented

With evaluations, it’s easy to get stuck on past performance. Even though we are looking at the past, we want to focus on the future. What can we do to help the staff member grow even more in the days ahead? How can we help them maximize the talents God has given them? How can we better align their work with how God has gifted them and called them to serve?

I’m a big believer in personal growth plans (see Three Steps for Developing a Personal Growth Plan). As you evaluate staff formally and informally, encourage them to develop a growth plan. Help them dream about where they want to be in their relationship with God and others, their character development, and in their ministries. Then, help them develop and execute action steps to make those dreams a reality. 

Evaluation that leads to this kind of forward movement and growth is the kind of process that will make a huge difference in your people and in the organization as a whole.

Randy Wollf is the Director of MinistryLift and Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Leadership Studies at MB Seminary