An overview of supervision

12.20.18 | Leader Development | by Melissa Lauber

    The chief role of any supervisor is performance management.

    Susan Beaumont, author of "When Moses Meets Aaron," shared some insights and best practices of about supervising employees with church leaders at a workshop at Foundry UMC in October 2018.

    Effective supervisors know how essential good job descriptions are, they know how to craft them, how to set expectations with performance goals and how to provide feedback to help employees thrive.

     Performance Management Systems

    A good boss has a good performance management system. Included in the elements of a performance management system are:

    1. A well-written and comprehensive employment policy handbook. 
    2. Every member of the staff has a current job description that defines the essential functions and core competencies of the role.
    3. Every staff member has a set of performance goals that are linked to the overall strategy of the congregation.
    4. Every supervisor has enough time in their schedule for performance evaluation, meeting one-on-one with each employee
    • Every two to three weeks for check-in, feedback and prioritization of tasks;
    • Quarterly for a goal review update;
    • Annually for an overall performance evaluation.
    Job Descriptions

    Most job descriptions include the job title, reporting relationship, a note if the job is full or part-time and if the position is exempt (salaried) or nonexempt (hourly). It should also include:

    • a paragraph long job summary or overview;
    • minimum qualifications, physical requirements, special working conditions, and
    • the date the description becomes effective. 

    Two other key components of a job description are a listing of the essential functions of a position and a listing of core competencies.

     Essential Functions

    • These are “what” an employee must do to meet basic expectations.
    • Most full-time job descriptions have between eight and 12 essential functions.
    • These functions should use verbs with a few other descriptor words, and might include activities like: manages, initiates, directs, strengthens, schedules, provides, equips, assists, repairs, services, trains, designs, maintains and communicates.

     Core Competenices

    • These address the “who and how” components of the job.
    • A job description should have only a handful of core competencies.
    • They are the behaviors, attributes and skills the employee is expected to demonstrate as they execute the essential functions.
    • They might include attributes like interpersonal skills, team building skills, process management, and problem solving.

     Job descriptions should be updated on a regular basis, at least yearly. Job descriptions, when coupled with performance goals, can be an excellent foundation for an annual performance review.

     Setting Performance Goals
    • Performance goals are outcome statements that direct people’s time and energies.
    • They should be in alignment with the priorities and purpose of the congregation.
    • These should be aspirational, not just repeating basic expectations of performance or functions.
    • Two or three annual goals is a good number.
    • They should be “SMART” goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.

     The following format can help in writing an effective goal statement:

    TO: _____________________ (Action Verb)
    WHAT: __________________ (Observable or Measurable; the Evidence of Success
    BY: _____________________ (Time-bound Deadline)
    SO THAT: ________________ (What the Outcome Will Do For You)

     Performance Evaluations

    It’s essential that supervisors know what their staff needs to function well. This awareness goes a long way.

     What do people seek in an employment relationship? The Gallup Organization reports the things people more look for in meaningful work are:

    1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
    2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
    3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
    4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
    5. Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
    6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

    Evaluation and feedback should not be limited to once or twice a year. Rather, it is a continual,  on-going, dialogue between the employee and supervisor.

    The Weekly Conversation

    Each day, week, or every two weeks, supervisors should check in with the staff person to touch base about performance issues. These conversations should be general, while also allow space to address specific or difficult issues. Taking the time for silence, and for listening, is crucial.

     The Quarterly Conversation

    Every three months a conversation should be had that allow the employee to report about their performance with some degree of specificity, the discoveries they’ve made and the partnerships and relationships they’ve developed.

    They should also provide a forecast of the next three months including goals and priorities, what they plan to learn and the partnership they are hoping to build.

     The meeting should last 30 to 45 minutes. The staff person should prepare for the meeting by submitting written notes before the meeting to guide the conversation.

     The Annual Performance Appraisal

    Performance evaluations and reviews clarifies the job to be done and the expectations of accomplishment.

     The best appraisal format, experts say:

    1. Lists the employee’s goals, performance expectations (functions) and core competencies.
    2. Next to each item listed, a column of space is created in which the supervisor can comment on how the performance compares with strengths and expectations. Strengths and weaknesses can also be noted.
    3. In a third column, the employee can be rated in that area on a scale of one to five. (Competencies are not traditionally rated on this scale.)

     Whatever format is used, supervisors are encouraged to include concrete feedback and to talk about future performance and ministry goals.

     Performance appraisals offer the opportunity to:

    • Clarify both the job to be done and the expectations of accomplishments.
    • Create a basis for decisions about salary and promotion.
    • Relate individual performance to organizational goals.
    • Enhance communications between supervisors and employees.
    • Stimulate the employee’s motivation by clearly identifying and building on strengths.

     It is best to avoid:

    • Generic forms that lead a supervisor down the path of evaluation staff on things they have no control over or are irrelevant to the performance of their ministry.
    • Force ranking employees. This serve no productive purpose.
    • Using arbitrary descriptors of performance acceptability like poor, average or excellent. These are vague and very subjective.
     About Supervision in a Church

    Within the church, supervisors can be less effective when they confuse covenantal relationships with employment relationships in the workplace. Covenantal relationships focus on two people looking out for each other’s best interests, they are about caring-relationships and mutual need. Employment relationship focus more on pursuing a course of action that will produce the most good for the greatest number of people. Thy are about defined outcomes and bottom lines.  This is a complex issue, especially for pastors serving as supervisors. But when in doubt, be kind and fair, and focus on employment relationships.

     For more information about Stepping us to Supervision, visit