A sense of dread always filled the office on Tuesday mornings. Smiles were few and conversations were brief as the anticipation of what was to come weighed heavily on all who gathered around the table to meet.
Quick prayers were said, followed by the words, “Okay guys, let’s talk about the. . . .”
What followed “the. . . .” was whatever needed to be debriefed. Since these Tuesdays took place at a church, the debrief normally involved the weekend service.
The discussion that would follow resembled surgery, as each element of the service was dissected and scrutinized.
- “The sermon was really dry, and the pastor didn’t pay attention to the timer. We’re going to get complaints. We ran long.”
- “I don’t know about you guys, but I thought the mix was just weird. Whoever’s running the soundboard this next weekend better have their act together.”
- “The lighting cues were off. A monkey could push those buttons; this isn’t rocket science.”
- “The worship band walked on stage WAY too early at the end of the service. They disrupted things – they distracted the audience.”
What happened on those Tuesdays unfortunately happens in offices and conference rooms everywhere. Roughshod sermons become keynotes that flop, ill-timed worship bands become breakout sessions that end too early, missed lighting cues become air conditioning systems that aren’t working well or whiteboards with no markers or computer software that dies with no warning. Evaluations were a part of life when I was 25 and teaching eager teens how to audition for television commercials. They were part of life when I was 40 and designing marketing campaigns for a major airline. And even though I now work with orphan care providers around the world, the evaluations continue.
Now, I’m not sure if it is born in us, or if it is taught to us, but there is something in human tendencies that changes the definition of “evaluate” from “to value” to “devalue.”
We’ve even come to expect disappointment in activities, vacations, or the service we receive at a restaurant or clothing store. Social media feeds are cluttered with complaints about people and places, and positive experiences are met with surprise rather than expectation.
Leadership expert Reggie Joiner makes this observation: “Each of us has a ratio of words of encouragement to words of criticism. The average person experiences one word of encouragement for every seven words of criticism. This explains why there are so many dysfunctional workplaces, poor marriages, insecure children, and poor churches.”
I don’t know about you, but I think we can be the ones to bring value back to evaluations. No matter where we find ourselves—at a church, in a corporate setting, or at a nonprofit organization in a remote part of the word—we have an opportunity to bring a culture of encouragement into the way we evaluate things.
FIRST, BUILD UP.
When I worked for NBC, I received some of the best training on how to conduct debriefs. More than two decades have passed, and I still use this simple guide every time I am called to lead an evaluation.
Always start with the question: “What went well?”
Begin with the positives—all of them. Take time to applaud them, and to applaud the people involved. Don’t allow any critical statements to be made until there has been ample time for celebration. Celebrate big and small moments, and then affirm the person who is taking the time (and the risk) to mention them. It can be intimidating for folks, especially those who are in a support role, to speak up in a meeting. No matter what role we play on a team, you and I can set the tone and be the example when we value what has worked!
“It is time for us all to stand and cheer for the doer, the achiever – the one who recognizes the challenges and does something about it.” ~Vince Lombardi
THEN, BUILD UPON.
After you ask, “What went well?”, ask this question: “What might we change going forward?”
Something amazing happens when we first affirm all that is valuable about something—or someone. When it comes to then talking about what didn’t work so well, we’ll be much more likely to offer ideas that build upon the good. It’s no surprise that many of the “things that went wrong” disappear from the list when the conversation begins with, “What went right?” because we have let value take the lead in the evaluation. Plus, when you ask, “What might we change?” you also open the door to new ideas, transforming that debrief into a creative session.
“To encourage someone is to help instill courage in them so that they can stand up and keep pressing forward.” ~Kevin Ngo
AND ALWAYS, BUILD IN.
One of the most powerful things about evaluations that bring value is that they set the stage for continued improvement, because encouragement does more than simply tend to the task at hand. It tends to hearts as well.
That’s right. Evaluations should always build in the value of the people involved by beginning and ending with encouragement—taking the time to esteem and build character, directing the focus of future work on the incomparable worth of the person doing it.
“Be an Encourager: When you encourage others, you boost their self-esteem, enhance their self-confidence, make them work harder, lift their spirits and make them successful in their endeavors. Encouragement goes straight to the heart and is always available. Be an encourager. Always.” ~Roy T. Bennett