Evaluation — who likes it and who needs it? When you know its about to happen, it can often feel like a trip to the dentist — necessary, helpful, but usually perceived as not pleasant. Generally in the literature related to non-profit board governance the evaluation of the chairperson receives considerable attention. However, in the case of church boards I suspect that few intentionally and consistently require and actually complete an annual evaluation of their chairperson’s performance. Probably the general culture of volunteerism as well as the predominant values of grace and love within church culture discourage such practices. We have trouble getting our minds and hearts to accept that accountability is required in congregational leadership.
Maybe the more significant hindrance, however, is that church boards do not have a culture that values assessment and evaluation. Ministry programs rarely are evaluated, pastoral leaders often receive no evaluation, and boards fail to evaluate their own performance. If these key aspects of congregational leadership are not being assessed, what chance is there that the chairperson’s performance will receive any scrutiny?
The rationale for annually evaluating a chairperson includes common arguments, i.e. it helps the individual grow in the role, it requires the board to be critical of its own level of performance, it enables the chairperson to assess whether or not he/she should accept another term of service, and it contributes to the discipline of effective governance.
In addition within the context of church boards, evaluating the chairperson signals to all that there is no entitlement to such roles. Often it seems that once a person is appointed to such a position reappointment will be expected unless the person decides against it or something catastrophic occurs. An annual evaluation also educates the entire board about the role of a chairperson because the position description will be reviewed in the process. Perhaps the evaluation will stimulate the board to make some changes in the position description because of what it learns in the process. And then annual evaluation may also help the board to plan good succession in the chairperson role. Evaluation requires the incumbent to think carefully about future involvement. Finally, annual evaluation enables the board to pause, consider the challenges facing the board over the next twelve months and ask whether a different set of gifts, skills and competence might be needed in the chairperson.
How and when should a church board initiate a chairperson’s leadership in the board? If there has been no history of such an evaluation, then it would be important for the board to assure the incumbent that the desire for such an evaluation is no reflection upon his work per se. Rather, the implementation of an annual evaluation is part of the board’s desire to improve its strategic ministry of leadership in the congregation. If the board decides to implement such a policy of evaluation, then it should appoint an adhoc committee (not including the current chairperson) to design a process for the board to consider, including key areas of the chairing responsibility that should be evaluated. In creating its report this adhoc committee should consult with the current chair and get his/her input before present their report to the board. The timing of the annual evaluation should be stipulated. It would be helpful to have it completed before the meeting at which annual selection of board officers occurs.
The intention of a performance evaluation is to recognize the good work being done by the incumbent, but also to discern areas where improvement might be helpful for the board. If two or three aspects of the chair’s role description are a bit of a challenge, then the board should offer to provide resources to help the incumbent gain additional competence. It is also important that an evaluation be tied closely to a written position description. It is quite unfair to evaluate a person without first defining expectations and giving an opportunity to the person to demonstrate competence. If in the evaluation the board discerns an area of the chairperson’s leadership that should be evaluated but is not included in the position description, then the board needs first to amend the job description. The support of the chairperson both for the process and the evaluation form is important to receive.
The process may include a number of elements. The chairperson may be invited to provide a self-evaluation. An adhoc committee of the board should be asked to oversee the process as defined by the board. At one of its meetings the board should fifteen to thirty minutes for the adhoc committee to hear from the board members their perspectives. With the self-evaluation in hand and the input from the board, the committee should formulate its report. It is always good form to meet with the chairperson and share the committee’s initial report before finalizing it. This gives the chairperson opportunity to correct misinformation, provide perspective on selected elements, seek understanding about a specific recommendation, and be fully aware of what will be shared with the board.
What might be some of the key areas of board chairmanship that a church board might consider in their evaluation process? Probably there should be some consideration of the skill with which the chairperson manages the mechanics of board meetings, i.e. development and circulation of agendas and minutes, keeping the meeting in good order and on time, giving space for each board person to speak to issues, and moderating discussions fairly. How has the chair managed conflicts of interest? What kind of advice has the chair provided to the board in facilitating its work? Does the chair communicate the decisions of the board well, i.e. speak for the board carefully and with integrity? Has the chair “played favourites” in the board or treated all members with respect? Are board records maintained well? Does the chair respect the policies that the board has developed to guide its decisions and operations? How has the relationship between the chair and the lead pastor developed? You will undoubtedly discern other aspects to evaluate.
Remember that the goal of the exercise is to enhance the ministry of the board chair and help this individual serve the board to the best of his/her ability.