One of my volunteers was almost TOO good at giving feedback. Every Sunday, she approached me with a list of improvements for the next Sunday. Sometimes they were small improvements like changing the text color on the screen. Sometimes the improvements required more time and energy, like completely changing the check-out process to make it more efficient for parents and more fun for kids.
When the never-ending improvement lists just kept coming, I started dreading these after-Sunday conversations. I even began looking for a place to hide when I saw this volunteer headed my way. It started to feel like nothing was ever good enough!
I eventually realized that this volunteer’s intentions were good even if her words weren’t. Just like me, she wanted what was best for the children in the ministry, and she was always willing to be part of the solution to any problems she saw.
Through our many conversations, I learned a little about asking the right questions and receiving feedback well…
Evaluate each event, but evaluate the general stuff too. Consistently ask for feedback from your key volunteers and parents (this is easy when you have a parent council) about your leadership and the week-to-week happenings of your ministry. Create a culture of openness and feedback (just make sure you’re prayerfully and emotionally ready for this). The most negative voices are often the loudest, but by inviting feedback, you give yourself the chance to hear all kinds of feedback that can help you be the best leader you can be.
Be specific – with the questions, the people, and even a deadline. Ask specific people, not a mass email group. Whether you’re evaluating a specific event or the ministry in general, make a list of specific people and send the questions to them, not the entire team or group. If you let people know you’re only asking a few select people, they’ll be more willing to take the time to give you feedback because it will feel like their answers actually matter. Just make sure your group includes different kinds of people (volunteers and parents, working moms and stay-at-home moms, nursery parents and elementary parents, etc.). Also, giving them a deadline for completing the survey leads typically to higher engagement.
Ask for their name in the survey and don’t make it anonymous. Let people take ownership of their answers, and give yourself the opportunity to follow up with anyone in case something alarming comes up.
In the case of event-specific feedback (find downloadable VBS Feedback forms here), host a post-event meeting with your key leadership team to talk about the event. Talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the event, favorite moments, etc. Take them out to lunch or invite them over for dinner. They feel appreciated and you get the feedback you need. Win-win. (Bonus tip: Schedule this meeting ahead of time so it doesn’t slip your mind in the post-VBS exhaustion.)
If someone comes to you with what they see as a problem in your ministry, invite them to be part of the solution. You can’t do it all by yourself (and you shouldn’t), so invite them to be part of solving the problem they see. Either they’ll jump in and you’ll have another rock star team member or they’ll list reasons they can’t help, and you can gracefully say you’ll consider their ideas without committing to any further action.
Know your own blind spots. At the Orange Conference 2018, Dr. John Townsend spoke on how all leaders have 4 blind spots: trying to maintain the perception of having it all together, putting tasks before relationships, avoiding conflict, and judging themselves and others unfairly. We have to be aware of our own weaknesses and blind spots so we can more graciously accept the feedback when others see things we might miss.
Remember that (most of the time) people’s intentions are good even if their words or tones aren’t. Try to see things from their perspective, and ask questions to help you understand their thoughts. Too often, we reject feedback because we get defensive (I’m always right, right?) but taking the time to understand someone’s thoughts and suggestions can help eliminate hurt feelings on either side.
Receiving feedback well does not mean you always take the feedback. It means you engage in a conversation about how that feedback can help you improve a ministry that influences generations in the name of Jesus.