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Appraisal - a Corporate Response

By Alun Brookfield.

My wife and I have both been subject to appraisal systems. I work for a large religious charity, she for a housing association. My company has used formal appraisal systems in the past, but they have now fallen into disuse. Mary's company uses a very formal six-monthly appraisal structure, requiring the filling in of lengthy forms on the parts of both worker and manager. These forms are then exchanged and the contents discussed, agreed and signed, along with a list of actions to be taken by both parties.

At my company, a similar system was employed during my first year or so, but it proved unwieldy, especially in an environment which was undergoing (and continues to undergo) constant change. It must not be inferred, however, that no appraisal takes place. On the contrary, the formal system has been replaced by a network of informal meetings between managers and staff. As a result, appraisal is a regular part of everyday life, and is much appreciated by all concerned.

In reflecting on our experiences of appraisal, whether formal or informal, I find there is a number of points to be made, especially in trying to relate them to the process of appraisal for minister.

First, there is no threat or criticism implied in the process. Some of my colleagues reacted strongly against appraisal, especially as we began to face the need to upgrade the skills of our staff. The suggestion that someone might need to increase or improve his or her skills was taken as criticism of performance or an indication that he or she was about to be moved or even made redundant. It is unfortunate and, I suggest, immature to regard any suggestion that improvement is needed, in any of those ways. It really is time that we as clergy grew up and faced the fact that, without constant development, we stagnate and lose our effectiveness and therefore our value to the churches we serve.

I heard recently from a close friend who is Secretary of a large Baptist church. Accustomed himself to appraisal and staff development at work, he suggested to his minister that on behalf of the deacons, he might carry out some assessment of the minister's strengths and skills with a view to helping him to concentrate on the things he did best. He received a verbally violent reaction, the minister choosing to interpret his positive and helpful suggestion as a threat to his ministry. The minister subsequently left, feeling that his ministry was no longer wanted at the church.

Second, in one sense the manager is under appraisal just as much as the staff member. Why? Because the manager has a responsibility to enable his or her staff to perform well. The task of a manager is not to criticise or condemn, but to assist. This is neither more nor less than what we as clergy do when we have an informal meeting with the leaders of a church activity - we are carrying out a form of appraisal. We will say things such as, 'Do you have enough help with doing the job?' or 'Is there enough equipment?' or 'How are the relationships in your team, especially with John Smith?'. In this kind of conversation, the minister is carrying out an appraisal of the situation with the intention of trying to provide the extra help, equipment or support.

Third, following on from the above, both parties want high quality performance, so the objective is always to offer support and encouragement. As a result of this process at our company, I have been able to attend a number of training courses and conferences which have improved my knowledge and skill levels,which in turn has improved my performance and my motivation. My wife is now halfway through a two-year training programme, started because, during appraisal, she and her manager identified her need for improved knowledge and skills. This did not imply that she was doing a bad job - in fact she was doing an excellent job - but that it was time to develop her in such a way as to make her an even greater asset to the company. When she has finished the training, she will be qualified for management within the association; her value will be enhanced and her job more secure.

However, life is never quite as simple as the above makes it seem. Appraisal processes do not always work quite perfectly. Usually the reason is a breakdown in the relationship or a lack of trust between the appraiser and the person being appraised. I cheerfully receive positive criticism from my immediate superior, because he is a friend and good at his job. If he were less pleasant to work with and/or I perceived him as incompetent, would I be so willing to receive his occasional censure? I doubt it.

So the question must arise, in pastoral ministry situations, to whom should people be accountable? The answer, of course, depends on a number of variables. In an Anglican environment, there is a straight line of accountability from curate through a number of layers of hierarchy to the Bishop. But is that always satisfactory?

In the Baptist environment, with which I am most familiar, the local minister is accountable to the Church Members' Meeting. But how on earth can a proper and worthwhile appraisal be carried out by a whole group of people which may number anything from a handful to a hundred or more? And to whom are the Church Members accountable? I rather relish the idea of an appraisal being carried out on the conduct of people at a Church Members' Meeting by some independent and authoritative person!

I conclude without answering these questions; they must be for other writers in this journal or for another occasion. However, I affirm what is hopefully implied above: that, for us, appraisal has been an entirely positive, if not always comfortable, experience. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish fervently that there had been someone who was responsible for appraising my ministry, other than my deacons and church members - it is easy to feel threatened when faced with a roomful of people, all of whom have an opinion about how well one is carrying out one's ministry. I commend appraisal with enthusiasm!

Revd Alun Brookfield is a Baptist minister, member of the RBIM Board of Trustees, and works for a large religious charity.

Alun Brookfield

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You are reading Appraisal - a Corporate Response by Alun Brookfield, part of Issue 9 of Ministry Today, published in February 1997.

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