Having lived in 19 places in my life (so far), I’ve been in my share of churches, but the one we go to now has always struck me as being a little more organized and better run than most. Recently I discovered one of the reasons why. We could all stand to take a page from their book to improve the way we lead, whatever we do.
What’s With the Clipboard?
At the place we go, there is always music to start, then one pastor gets up and makes all the announcements. There’s more music while we great each other, and then the main speaker for the day gets up to deliver the sermon. It’s a good comfortable rhythm that works well.
Something I noticed not too long ago. When the speaker finally gets up, the other pastor takes a seat in the front row on the far left side and picks up a clipboard. I know I’m supposed to be paying full attention to the sermon, but every so often I’ll notice that this person will look down and write something that I’m pretty sure isn’t doodling.
Given the nature of our pastor, I suspected what was happening, but he came right out and said it a couple weeks ago. His teammate is filling out a “Coaching Card.” Every time one of them speaks, someone else is designated “coach” and fills out an evaluation card during the sermon.
Then, in the next few days, the “coach” sits down with the speaker and together they go over the card. They talk about what went well that they should keep doing, and also where some improvement might be possible.
Why This is a Good Thing
There are a bunch of reasons why this can be a good thing, and why you should consider doing something similar in your organization.
Leaders need feedback. This first one is obvious – getting near-real time feedback on how you are performing is a great thing to have. Our own perception of how things are going is naturally biased. Input from another set of eyes can be a great way to confirm it is going the way you think it is, or spotlight some areas that need more attention.
Having a coach “raises the game.” The speaker already does his job in front of hundreds of people who will form opinions about the performance. But the fact that someone who knows the job will be sitting there with a clip board and writing down the good, the bad, and the ugly, raises the stakes another notch. It may cause him to prepare just a little bit more. He knows he’s going to hear about it one way or another.
It gets beyond, “That was nice.” Feedback is important, but to really be useful, it should be specific. Having a coaching card with specific categories to be rated, and spaces for comments in each area forces the coach to articulate clear useful feedback that will help the speaker improve.
It enables targeting. By choosing what categories to put on the card for evaluation, you influence that area more. Want more humor in the sermons? Make it a category. What gets checked gets fixed.
It builds the team. When everyone is under the spotlight in the same way, it can build a sense of camaraderie – “we’re all in this together.” Since everyone will ultimately be a coach to everyone else, it makes sense to share tips and techniques to help each other improve.
It forces meaningful discussion. Making time to get eyeball to eyeball to share useful feedback soon after the event can be hugely powerful. It forces you to focus on what is important and to take action to keep making it better.
It establishes a culture of growth. When the idea of focusing on improvement is institutionalized, it creates an organization that keeps getting better. In this case, the planning is not done until both a speaker and a coach are identified. Just like in my Army days, there was always time on the schedule for the exercise, as well as for the After Action Review; we never did one without the other.
It sets a great example. The process they use isn’t just to help the junior members; it’s for everybody, including the head guy. By having junior members of his team evaluate him, the lead pastor is setting a powerful example. If he shows himself to be open to constructive feedback, the others will be more open to input as well.
It trains more leaders. Evaluating and giving feedback are key tasks any leader needs to be good at. By making all members of the team coaches as well as speakers, they get more opportunities to build this skill set.
A Few Cautions
As good as a system like this is, it can go off the rails in a couple ways if you aren’t careful.
Checking the block. There can be a tendency to “go along to get along” and only give bland, uncritical remarks to someone in hopes that they will not get too critical of you. Once this starts happening, you are just wasting everyone’s time. It takes effort and thought to provide useful, constructive feedback, but it is worth it. If you are being coached and all you hear are platitudes, challenge them to dig deeper.
Checking the grades. The minute you make this feedback part of the annual performance report, the dynamic changes. People will become defensive, and begin to focus on the numbers rather than getting better. Best to avoid keeping score and using it for formal evaluations; what is important is growth and improvement.
Checking the ego. As a coach, make sure the feedback you give is about the actions and behaviors, not the person. As the person being coached, realize it’s not a personal assault, it’s someone trying to help; be sure to take it that way.
Checking the source. Multiple sources of feedback are better than one – people have different perspectives and backgrounds through which they filter what they see. One comment from one person may not be enough for you to do a complete makeover. But if employees, customers, peers, your boss, and your kid brother are all saying the same thing, it might be time to listen.
Constructive Feedback – The Takeaway
Constructive feedback is essential to help you and your team improve. Making the feedback collection process part of your team’s habit is a great way to make sure you do it, and allows you to steadily improve over time.
And when the leader plays an active part in the process and encourages feedback on his own performance, it builds trust and strengthens the entire leadership team.
Remember to focus on the behavior, not the person, and don’t forget to talk about what was good that you should keep doing, as well as what needs improvement.
It doesn’t have to be a form on a clipboard, but whatever it is that you do, having a good feedback loop will help you do it better in lots of ways, and strengthen your team in the process.