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Being Earnest By Sara Nagelvoort Marlin

Christian Leadeship AllianceThe Importance of Being Earnest In Employee Reviews!

By Sara Nagelvoort Marlin ~

It’s that time of year for annual performance reviews at my organization, and I’ve been reflecting on the importance of giving clear and timely feedback to those in our care as steward leaders. Effective leaders are those who actively hold team members accountable in two dimensions. First, like a good sports coach, an effective leader manages each member to optimal performance in his or her role in support of the organization’s goals. Secondly, the steward leader will require that each teammate behave in ways that consistently uphold the organization’s values.

What makes for a good review? For one, it’s critical that feedback be clear and specific, while of course delivered with kindness. The reviewer’s goal should not be to avoid conflict. This is not the time for sugar-coating. Instead, the goal is to help people reach their full potential. Imagine if a coach held back on information that could power Tom Brady to help the Patriots win another Super Bowl or the Angels’ Mike Trout to hit even more home runs. That’s the opposite of a good coach. Likewise we steward leaders cannot hold back on delivering feedback that give team members insight to better serve their team and organization.

As I reflected in a previous post about the need for more candor in the Christian workplace, Christians often seem uncomfortable with straight talk. Likely this is rooted in their good desire to encourage those around them. But not giving honest feedback about someone’s performance is harmful all around. It’s both dishonest and unfair. By not receiving true feedback, the individual misses a genuine opportunity to grow in self-awareness, hone skills, adjust behaviors, and increase meaningful contribution. Moreover, a suboptimal teammate usually burdens the rest of the team, often requiring them to pick up the slack and causing resentment. Meanwhile, the leader is harmed as onlookers lose confidence in the leader’s judgment.

Remember, good review practices reflect good financial stewardship, too. Working in a Christian organization that relies on generous—and often sacrificial—gifts from donors across the country, I am mindful of making effective use of the donor dollars so kindly entrusted to us. But even in a for-profit environment, one still has a duty to be a wise steward of financial resources. Managing each team member to strong results is a key part of this.

Through our review practices, those of us with several layers of reports are also setting the tone for how those who report to us manage their own teams, and so on. Good behavior starts at the top and cascades down. While at it, keep in mind that the review process should be a two-way street. As you give feedback, ask your employees how you yourself can be better as a leader. Are there ways you can help them be more effective? Do you have habits that are inhibiting them or causing confusion? This open dialogue will demonstrate humility on your part, provide feedback for you to consider, and model the commitment to improvement that we want our teams to embrace.

Finally, don’t wait for the annual review – give clear feedback throughout the year. Challenge yourself to do it on a timely basis, as issues arise. There shouldn’t be any surprises in the annual review. If you deal with performance and behavior challenges yearlong, you are more likely to find yourself giving a very different annual review, perhaps mostly praising your motivated and empowered colleagues for a great year!


Sara Nagelvoort Marlin is the senior vice president of marketing and communications for Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest outreach to prisoners, former prisoners, and their families.

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