I’m continuing to think about the nature of performance reviews as I did in my last post and will hopefully begin conducting some research about it several months from now. A number of you have already reached out to me with suggestions and stories-thank you! Here are some additional thoughts and if you have some feedback, please let me know. Also, while these posts have been about rabbis and boards, many of the ideas apply to educators, cantors, program directors-basically, everyone who is a paid “professional.”
Congregations are in the throes of disruptive change. Especially during such fundamental upheavals, lay and professional leaders express anxiety about the meaning and future of their congregations. This anxiety is neither inherently destructive nor instructive. It all depends upon how congregational leaders respond to it.
As a generalized pervasive state, anxiety erodes morale, breeds defensiveness and often leads to damaging clergy evaluations. In an atmosphere of negative anxiety, lay leaders can use a performance evaluation as a blunt object to punish clergy for their perceived inability to meet goals that are implicit, unrealistic or unshared. A process where the rabbi alone is reviewed, and not the board, is already fundamentally flawed, as it communicates that the board is not responsible for the success of the congregation.
Conversely, anxiety can stimulate a collaborative effort of clergy and lay leaders to open a real conversation about the essence of what it means to be a congregation. The strong undertow of congregational activity can sometimes pull congregations away from their fundamental work. Healthy performance reviews enable congregations to correct their course. They become a regularly calendared time when congregational leaders and staff collaboratively assess their mission and vision, and accordingly realign goals, activities and governance. Equally important, evaluations are the time to ask if the congregations stated values are alive at all levels in the congregation. Do interpersonal relationships and interactions feel coldly corporate or genuinely caring?
These authentic conversations are challenging—but, can be incredibly enriching. They are not only about “accountability,” but about gaining insight, learning and applying that knowledge going forward. They generate the powerful energy that rabbis and volunteers experience when they know that they are doing holy work. In this scenario, the review process becomes a time for celebration of past achievement and inspiration for future accomplishments.
It’s summertime-and hopefully you have a little more downtime. If you’re a rabbi or volunteer leader, and you don’t like the way evaluations are handled or if you don’t have an evaluation process now is the time to start making changes. See what resources your denominational movement has available. Talk to your peers in other congregations about ideas. But most of all make sure that you ask questions that matter. If the questions leave you feeling like you’re at your annual physical examination, then don’t matter for the review process and you can ask them at another time. But if they relate to your essential purpose and generate energy, they probably matter!