Rethinking Staff Performance Management

Posted by Jerry Roth on

For those of you that hate performance reviews, I encourage you to stay with me for a few minutes. I think you will like the outcome. For over 45 years I have been the recipient of performance reviews. Based on this wealth of experience, I would like to say that I have found them to be at best unproductive, and at worst destructive to my professional growth and ability to do my job.

I thought that might get your attention! Thankfully today there are many voices encouraging us to rethink how we can achieve the intended goals of performance management such as:

  1. nourishing our staff member’s professional and personal growth
  2. identifying and aligning our staff member’s strengths in support of achieving our mission & ministry outcomes


So what steps can we take to provide effective, supportive performance management to our church staff? At the recent 2017 Global Leadership Summit, Marcus Buckingham presented his research on how we can build effective teams in our organizations. Here is a brief synopsis of his key points.

Performance Reviews

He believes that performance reviews are bogus. He notes extensive research that indicates managers who evaluate and rate their staff are really rating their own biases. In addition, many of our rating schemes include a numerical ranking or a phrase that attempts to describe the perceived level of performance of the staff member. They have been proven to be counterproductive to their intended purposes. He stated, “People can’t rate other people.” And worse yet, people don’t want that type of feedback.

Key Factors

Buckingham believes there are two key factors that must be embodied in our performance management efforts if we want to develop productive staff and strong teams. Staff want:

  1. to have a chance to use their strengths every day – This implies several issues that must be met. Our systems must help our staff members identify their strengths. Then our performance management processes must help the staff intentionally utilize these strengths to contribute to the ministry priorities of our church.
  2. to clearly know what is expected of them – We must regularly communicate staff priorities. Because of the chaotic nature of our work and the fast pace of change, this must be an intentional process and occur frequently.


Frequent Check Ins

The process Buckingham recommends is simple but powerful. It reminded me of the MBWA (Management By Walking Around) theory promoted many years ago. He characterizes the process as the Frequent Strengths-Based Check Ins. He recommends that the staff member and manager meet weekly to discuss both near-term and future work. Together they clarify the staff member’s priorities for the coming week and discuss how the manager can support the staff member during that time. He believes that people don’t want feedback (traditional performance management systems), they want attention and coaching.

If you would like to read more about his efforts to re-invent performance management, you will find it here. You can also read a Harvard Business Review article, Reinventing Performance Management.

The Center for Parish Leadership is available to assist you in reviewing your performance management processes. Please contact us to discuss how we can work with your staff and leaders to develop effective staff development practices. If you would like to read previous Weekly Research Updates, you will find them on our website blog.



Jerry Roth

Research Analyst

The Center for Parish Leadership


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