Warning: You're Losing Staff by Not Using Written Feedback

Why is it that we struggle to handle under performing staff members in the church? Honestly, I think it’s fear. We fear that we are creating a cold/corporate organization. We fear being seen as transactional by our staff. We fear damaging the relationships we’ve cultivated.

But the unfortunate truth is that when we fail to appropriately manage underperforming staff we alienate two key groups of people.

First, we fail to allow the under performer to correct their work. When we are not crystal clear with our expectations most staff will fail at implementing your feedback.

Second, we allow an under performing culture to take hold and begin to repel high achievers. These top performers eventually get tired of picking up the slack and look for work elsewhere.

For most of my working life I had never fired someone, so when I had the opportunity to sit in on a "feedback" conversation I felt I had a responsibility to do so. What I watched was unsettling.

The supervisor was attempting to advise his employee that their performance up to this point was not enough to warrant their continued employment. The problem was he wasn't being clear. He was alluding to the fact that the employee’s performance needed to change, but he wasn't being clear about it what he was frustrated with or what he expected to change. He mentioned that the employee had to improve in a couple of areas, but nothing was really that specific.

The employee on the other hand saw the meeting completely differently. They understood that their boss was upset about something and agreed that they could improve. But they had no idea what their boss actually wanted.  In reality he was making every effort to finish this conversation and escape the uncomfortable situation.

When the meeting was over I asked the supervisor if they thought the employee understood what had happen here. They were adamant that the employee understood that their behavior needed to change or they would be fired.

I was pretty sure the employee had no idea.

When it comes to serious feedback, both parties rarely hear the same thing.

When it comes to serious feedback, both parties rarely hear the same thing.
— StevenJBarker

Feedback is an important part of a healthy effective team, but what’s most important is that this feedback is incredibly clear. It doesn’t have to be harsh, it doesn’t even have to be drastic, but it does need to be clear.

Here are two tips help keep staff when giving feedback:

1. Face to face, first.

If you feel like your team member is moving from being a good performer to an under performer that is feedback that should always be delivered in a 1:1 meeting. If you were my boss, I would want to know that you were seeing a change in my performance and I would want to have a conversation about it.

Plus, more than anything, we don't want to discipline them into succeeding, we want to equip them to succeed. 

2. Summary, second.

Because we assume that our employee understood exactly what we said, we convince ourselves that followup isn’t necessary….but it is. Especially when you are dealing with something like employment, your employee deserves to know exactly what you mean and what you expect.

This can be as simple as a follow up email, written by either you or your employee, or it can be as formal as a written discipline.

Delivering feedback well is an important skill to develop. Don’t assume you and your team are on the same page, verify you are. You both deserve it.  

Communication Issues That Get In The Way

If you’re like most people, at some time in your life you had a bad boss. And while it’s easy to criticize someone else’s choices it can be humbling to turn that scrutiny on yourself. In a recent HBR article, "The Top Complaints from Employees About Their Leaders”, Lou Solomon wrote about the top communication issues that keep business leaders from being effective. 

If you’ve lead a staff of paid individuals this is an important list to examine. But what if you lead volunteers. Does it still apply? Of course it does. When it comes to leading people, pay has less to do with it. Sure, there is the job we have to put food on the table, but we volunteer for different reasons. None of which compensate for poor communication. 

So how do you overcome these same communication issues when you are dealing with volunteers? 

Say Thank You

Recognize accomplishments in private and public. Send personal cards, hold awards ceremonies, publish a newsletter with your quarterly giving receipts. 

Set Clear Expectations

This means clearly articulating what your planned outcome is. Worry less about job descriptions and more about what you are trying to accomplish and how they can help (see "2 Reasons to Stop Building Your Volunteer Org Chart, Plus 1 Alternative").

Give Constructive Criticism 

It’s funny how uncomfortable leaders get when it comes to giving volunteers feedback. "But they are volunteers! How can I say anything negative to them?" Funny thing is, if at that very moment I pulled any given volunteer aside and said “Your team leader wants to give you some feedback to help you be more effective, but they think you might find it offensive because your just volunteering.” How do you think they would respond? Constructive supportive criticism can go a long way in increasing your leadership effectiveness.

Honor Their Entire Life, Not Just Their Volunteer Life

What percentage of each volunteer's work week is dedicated to your team? Probably a pretty small number. That leaves a lot of room for a lot of other things to be going on. Work, family, friends, hobbies. Their lives have many facets. Get to know a few of them and ask on a periodic basis. 

I want them to enjoy their volunteer work more than their job.

I’ve always wanted the time a volunteer spent working on one of my teams to be their most enjoyable “work” of their week. I want them to enjoy their volunteer work more than their job. That’s a tall order, and one that I can easily miss…but it’s worth aiming for. 

Question of the day: Which communication issue do you find most challenging?