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.  

When Is It Not Important To Fix The Problem?

You don’t have to look very far in a church setting to find someone willing to give you feedback. If you you implemented "Using Feedback Forms to Stay Focused on your Vision" [link] you are starting to get some solid actionable feedback by now. The problem is that if you wrote down everything that needed to be “fixed” the list may feel overwhelming and would most likely be flooded with a myriad of other people’s personal preferences and style choices.

So how do you strategically address only what demands attention?

Background image courtesy of  Marie Coleman

Background image courtesy of Marie Coleman

The trick is to recognize the difference between trends and flash bangs.

A flash bang is designed to temporarily disorient an opponent's senses. It produces a blinding flash of light and an intensely loud "bang" without causing permanent injury. It’s tough to focus on anything else in your environment other than the bang & light that has all your attention.

Feedback from our team and members can have the same effect. Someone personally experienced something that they feel needs to be fixed and they have access to the guy with the authority to fix it. Consequently, a lot of attention is directed towards this flash bang problem. It's hard not too! Lots of light and sound point at the problem, BUT you are not sure if it is something you HAVE TO address. So what do you do?

Focus on fixing trends, not flash bangs.

Focus on fixing trends, not flash bangs.
— Steven J Barker

Flash bang problems feel urgent. They feel like big problems and sometimes they are. They key for any great team leader is to ignore the “blinding light & loud bang” and look at the issue.

  • Is this something that needs to be addressed at some point?
  • Does it violate our values?
  • Does it highlight a problem with our system?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions then the issue is something that needs our attention, BUT it doesn’t need all of our attention right now.

Instead of being solved, it may need to be monitored.

Flash bangs problems aren’t solved, they are monitored.
— Steven J Barker

Trends on the other hand are problems that have shown some track record. We all have bad days, especially in a volunteer organization like the church, there can be times where everything doesn’t go as planned. Mistakes can be made. But when we begin to see something appear in feedback, for more than a couple weeks, we know we’ve got a problem. This problem has become a trend and it’s time to change the trend. It’s time to bring it up with the team and start brainstorming solutions.

You’ve got a limited amount of time to focus on fixing problems. Fix what needs to be fixed and then put all your energy into looking forward (also see What Size Is Your Rear View Mirror?).

Fixing trends solves your growing problems and leaves more time to focus on what's most important. Use your time wisely. 


Disclaimer: This is not an excuse to procrastinate. As soon as you recognize the trend it’s vitally important to act immediately. The longer you don’t address the issue, the harder it becomes to address.

Using Feedback Forms To Stay Focused On Your Vision

Step 1. Have a vision. 

Step 2. Have a plan.

Step 3. Realize that a plan never goes as planned as soon as it’s put into action. 

Managing a team isn’t just about barking orders. We know that. It’s about supporting a team. It’s about helping the team accomplish it’s collective goal. And in order to effectively do this week-in and week-out we need some sort of feedback loop. 

Being the new guy in any organization can be daunting. It seems like everyone else knows what’s expected and all you can do is wander around until you walk “out of bounds”. When I first became a campus pastor I started to realize that not only was I the new guy in town, I was also hiring and recruiting new leaders who would have the same conundrum as me. We would all be wandering around until we got our hand slapped. We had to come up with some kind of solution that would ensure that team leaders stay focused on the important things, as well as to have a place to share what was and wasn’t working. 

And so the feedback form was born. 

Our feedback form helped to maintain a basic level of focus for any given Sunday and was quick enough to do on your phone before you went home. 

And because it was a simple step before closing up shop, it helped to maintain our consistency without requiring a weekly 1:1 meeting between every team lead and their supervisor. 

Each feedback form was a variation of the following (you can see a sample from here ). 

When creating a feedback form for a team the following two types of questions should be included: 

1. Standard objectives

What minimum expectations do you have for each weekend experience or event? Do you want volunteer teams to pray every week? Do you want them to be ready for guests by a certain time? What standard elements should be present week in and week out. Ask specific yes or no questions related to each of those elements.

2. Free Form

Leave some open ended questions to allow your team to share what went well that weekend and what needs to be addressed in the future.

(Pro Tip: include a spot for each team leader to list what they are going to focus on fixing for the next weekend. This helps to ensure this form is a focusing form and not a complaint outlet, hoping someone else will address the problems.)


Then close the loop. Share with the entire team an overview of the weekend’s feedback and the top objectives for the coming week. In fact you may even start sending a more formal email every week to help motivate and focus your team (see "How To Write Emails Your Volunteers Will Actually Read")

Have a vision, have a plan, and give your team the tools to help adjust the plan as it meets reality.