Evaluating ourselves

by Marshall Scott

Ah, siblings, it is that time again! Oh, sorry; what time? It is the time for preparing for annual reviews.

For me, there are two projects for that preparation. The easy one – well, not exactly easy, but easier – is preparing my own materials for my boss to review. Far and away harder is it to prepare to evaluate those who report to me. How shall I do that, and be fair? Indeed, what does fair mean? It has to mean accurate, of course. In some sense, it has to be just (a more complex consideration than “fair”), both to the work provided by the employee and the work expected by the organization on behalf of those served (in my case, patients, family members, and staff of our hospital, and members of the community around us; and, indirectly, the diocese that stands behind the hospital). I think it also has to be compassionate, acknowledging that each person has had different needs and experiences over the past year that have affected how and when that person worked.

I have tools to bring to this process, of course. Last year at this time I asked these same people to set goals for themselves. I even had some standards for those goals. There are many such standards in use, but I’ve long used SMART; and there are several definitions of SMART, but I’ve used “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable.” So, all my employees should have goals to measure against, goals that they themselves chose. Those are helpful, of course; but they also have their limitations. If the goal wasn’t completed, how much progress is enough? If no progress was made, how much of that was the responsibility of the employee? More often, this is part of the conversation: “Well, I said I would pursue A, B, and C; and I didn’t get to C. On the other hand, D and E came up and were very important, and I did well with them.” Were D and/or E more important than C? Or, were they simply important enough?

And there certainly are events that inhibit progress that aren’t the fault of the employee. There are personal and family events, both sad and happy. And there are changes in the environment, from the goals of our institution to the social dynamics of health care, that can make some goals irrelevant or unattainable. In that light, how did the employee respond? This is one of those points where I think compassion comes in, not only as a factor in how I relate to my employees, but also as a measure I model for other managers and administrators.

Then there are the tools for assessment. We have a good tool, and employees can use it both to request feedback from co-workers and also to evaluate themselves. It is the institution’s tool, and not my own; and so I might have phrased differently some of the questions. On the other hand, the principles and values behind the questions are valid and clear.

The hard part about this tool, of course, is what it means to be “fair” from the other side. We describe ourselves in ways that we might call “hopeful,” and we ask for feedback from others we expect to do the same (and I use “we” advisedly here, because I’m not better than anyone else on that point). I don’t think folks want to be inaccurate – to lie – but I acknowledge that we all want to put our best foot forward, as it were. So, the feedback over all begins to remind me of that literary creation from our fellow Episcopalian, Garrison Keillor: “all the children are above average.” Each year I am reminded by good folks in Human Resources that if our standards are appropriately high, simply Achieving those standards is an accomplishment; and that Exceeding Expectations should be unusual, and Outstanding performance rare. Being a clinical, scientific endeavor, we can all envision a bell curve (I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone actually illustrate it this way), with a broad, high middle section of “Achieves,” with a small “Exceeds” section and an even smaller “Outstanding” section to one side; and a measurable (if not too big) section of “Fails to achieve” to the other. But, of course, as clinical and scientific as our context is, neither our employees nor their work are exactly amenable to measurement. That is not true only of chaplains, but of chaplains it is, I think, particularly true.

All these things go through my mind as I try to think through, not simply whether this chaplain or that “Achieved” or “Exceeded,” but also whether I have. How shall I evaluate myself? What rational, and what rationalizations do I consider? And if I will consider those rationalizations for myself, mustn’t I also consider them for those who report to me?

There is something to be said about it being “that time again.” Specifically, there is something to be said for me in that “that time” comes at this time. Because this activity takes place in the spring, it always takes place, to a greater or lesser extent, in Lent. All of these questions about what is accurate, what is just, what is positive, what is rationalized, are as important in my soul as they are on my desktop. If I understand that we are all called by God, and are called in part by God to reflect God’s presence in the midst of my life and work, then how I live both as employee and as employer are relevant for contemplation. What have I done to take those good values entrusted to me by those I report to and enable those to report to me to reflect and achieve them? What have I done to help those I work with live out their ministries, whether they report to me or I report to them? If I take seriously this process, it is my spiritual process reflected in my employment setting. It is an exercise in humility.

So, I end up turning this around. This management process in my institution is just as meaningfully a management process in my relationship with God. Perhaps that seems obvious for a person whose work is “clergical” (to distinguish it from that other honorable meaning of “clerical”). I find myself thinking, though, that it has a more universal application. We passed not long ago the Spring Ember Days – unobserved, largely, except by those Postulants and Candidates who write letters and those bishops who read them. I was looking again at the collect for the first of the Ember Days:

“Almighty God, the giver of all good gifts, in your divine providence you have appointed various orders in your Church: Give your grace, we humbly pray, to all who are [now] called to any office and ministry for your people; and so fill them with the truth of your doctrine and clothe them with holiness of life, that they may faithfully serve before you, to the glory of your great Name and for the benefit of your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

The rubric in the Prayer Book identifies this collect as “For those to be ordained.” I couldn’t help but think, though, that we teach four orders of ministry; and that “any office and ministry for your people” seems to me include any of the four. If we are called to reflect God’s presence in daily life – if we are called by God to reflect God’s presence in daily life – then “any office and ministry” is not just limited to how we are called in and through the institution of the Church, or how we are called formally to participate in Word and Sacrament. It must reflect how each of us is called now, and what each of us is called to.

So, how during this Lent will we evaluate our performance? If we were to take all our ministries seriously enough that we wrote an Ember Day letter, what would we include? What goals have we set, and how well have we accomplished them? Even if there is some point at which we were Outstanding, how often did we simply Achieve – or perhaps Fail to Achieve? Each of us has been called to some office or ministry by God, served within some order of ministry. How would we evaluate our performance? We know it is not our performance that can save us; but any realistic assessment of our performance must convince us of our need for the One who can.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a hospital chaplain in the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

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