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Performance Evaluations

Employee reviews may seem the bane of your existence, but there are ways to make the process more palatable if you must deal with it.

April 22, 2012  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

Photo courtesy of Amaury Murgado.
Photo courtesy of Amaury Murgado.

Supervisors and officers tend to dislike dealing with performance evaluations (PEs) as much as they dislike internal affairs investigations and termination proceedings. Supervisors hate writing evaluations and officers hate reading them. But they persist anyway.

There are two schools of managerial thought with regard to PEs. The first believes they are a great management tool that helps agencies achieve their goals by improving and working with their employees. The second believes the opposite; they feel PEs hinder the agency instead. They view PEs as nothing more than a control measure, a tool out of touch with teamwork, and a vehicle that thwarts innovation.

I agree more with the latter school of thought, and so does a growing body of research. But since it doesn't seem that performance evaluations are going away anytime soon, I'll explore some common problems and suggest ways to make them more digestible.

Problems with Performance Evaluations

In "Abolishing Performance Appraisals: Why They Backfire and What to Do Instead," authors Tom Coens and Mary Jenkins make a very good case that PEs don’t accomplish their intended goals. The authors' chief contention is that PEs are controlling, boss-driven, and dependence-building devices that stifle motivation in employees.

This becomes evident when the authors point out that systems and processes (policies and procedures), and not individual skills or efforts, determine the bulk of performance results. Take for example a policy or procedure that, when followed to the letter, results in lower productivity in certain sections of an officer’s evaluation. How is that the officer’s fault?

Agencies cling to PEs as a form of documentation to help with disciplinary actions and legal challenges dealing with employee terminations. Unfortunately, evaluations tend to be inaccurate and inconsistent at best. I don’t see how something like that will help bolster an employer’s case.

Think about it: How often have you read an evaluation that was an accurate picture of 12 months' worth of work? How thoroughly was the scored bullet point section explained? Did the narrative section include other important details like completing schools or courses, receiving letters of appreciation, and outlining future goals? Or was it just a rehash of the bulleted section?

A common school of thought is that PEs need to be tied in to something to have meaning and value, for example pay increases. I always wonder about the sanity of things like that. You need a certain score on your PE to be eligible for a pay raise. And yet not everyone that hits the magic mark gets the money. It's a great tool for management as they get more work out of you; they get more bang for the buck. But all you get is banged. In reality, pay raises are a question of budget and not performance. Anything else is just a placebo for false hope.

Then there is the classic statement that reviews are supposed to be objective. If that were true then there wouldn't be such a difference between the supervisors who write them. Supervisor A gives you a 95. Supervisor B a year later gives you an 85. What's changed…you or the supervisor?

Accountability, measuring work product, and attitudes are subjective and not objective. Unfortunately, there are supervisors that evaluate individuals solely based on their numbers. If that’s the trend, then what ever happened to quality over quantity?

I have always had the opinion that if an officer is doing his or her job correctly the numbers will take care of themselves. What’s more important, that an officer makes 40 BS misdemeanor arrests in a month or that while on night shift the burglary rate drops because of his or her aggressive patrolling?

Tags: Best Practices, Performance Evaluations, Command Staff


Comments (12)

Displaying 1 - 12 of 12

Glen @ 4/23/2012 8:55 PM

What an accurate and nail-on-the-head article. My agency is stuck in the stone age, complete with favoritism and the Peter Principle in full force. Evals are exactly the problem(s) you write about here. There has to be a way to eliminate them while merit increases are provided for somehow. I recently receoved a down-themiddle

Glen @ 4/23/2012 8:57 PM

evaluation, which is all kinds of backward and lazy. I went to the big boss about it, but was asked what I suggest he do about it...

Jim @ 4/23/2012 10:34 PM

If you are a guy that does the work of two, but are not in the good graces of the boss, then you are sh&* on his shoe and you will never get a good evaluation. Just like when you are disciplined for what your co-workers - or even what your boss does. It is all up to the whim of the boss. There is no objectivity about it.

Thor @ 4/24/2012 12:09 AM

Once a year? Try every 6 months. Good comunication between Sgt and patrol. I was sent out to run radar on 30 mph street with no residential intersections. 30 mph out of place--I never did 30 mph on patrol--usually 45. Message got through when only verbal warnings were given. Made detective. Think for yourself--do the ethical thing.

Debby @ 4/24/2012 12:42 AM

I'm one of the supervisors who do the evals. It is hard when you are rating what you believe is fair (myself and my two Sgts.) and then supervisors from other shifts rate some of their people higher (undeserved) because their shift does no wrong. It does make for dissention among the rank and file. I know about being on the bottom of the shoe also. I happen to be a supervisor who is not afraid to tell you their opinion and for that I am not like. My shift does show the numbers and we have more felony arrests than the other two but we are the hated shift. What do you do?

DaveSAM25G @ 4/24/2012 1:10 AM

Well Done (Lt)...The word Lazy stood out and never forget your path up – and what is put into is what you get out of it like everything in life effort-action!! Good documentation on performance reports. – These should be based on and spelled out by a solid policy – continuous feedback – using a performance worksheet…

During my military days (Ret Now) I gave these official feedbacks quarterly or as needed some more than others (above and beyond yes but no surprises to those I rated …communication should be daily or as needed …gives them time and chance to improve also before annual report…All must be backed up just like a criminal case with the evidence of either good performance or bad…This is just an example only what was used in USAF-many military methods are easily adapted to police work and vice-versa why re-invent the wheel!

Definitions of performance assessment ratings to be used on the forms now Enlisted-EPRs two types of reports E-1-E-7, E-7-E-9 and Performance Worksheets =PFWs which match the reports now with rating used to be scale Must be able to support these rating through chain of command documentation ACTION!
a. Does Not Meet: Performs below established standards, requires improvement.
Disciplinary action is not required however, report will be referral.
b. Meets: Meets established standards.
c. Above Average: Performs beyond established standards and expectations.
d. Clearly Exceeds: Performs at a higher level than most of their peers, far exceeds standards and expectations, unique performer.

Advice for the Corporal or Sgt even acting ones: During supervision and leadership - I become a leader by what I do. I take the initiative and seek responsibilities, and I face situations with boldness and confidence. I estimate the situation and make my own decision as to the best course of action. No matter what the requirements, I stay with the job until the job is done; no matter what the results, “I

DaveSAM25G @ 4/24/2012 1:12 AM

OOPS missing last part-The word Lazy stood out – and what is put into is what you get out of it like everything in life effort-action!! Good documentation on performance reports. – These should be based on and spelled out by a solid policy – continuous feedback – using a performance worksheet…During my military days I gave these official feedbacks quarterly or as needed some more than others (above and beyond yes but no surprises to those I rated …communication should be daily or as needed …gives them time and chance to improve also before annual report…All must be backed up just like a criminal case with the evidence of either good performance or bad…This is just an example only what was used in USAF-many military methods are easily adapted to police work and vice-versa why re-invent the wheel!Definitions of performance assessment ratings to be used on the forms now Enlisted-EPRs two types of reports E-1-E-7, E-7-E-9 and Performance Worksheets =PFWs which match the reports now with rating used to be scale Must be able to support these rating through chain of command documentation ACTION!
a. Does Not Meet: Performs below established standards, requires improvement.
Disciplinary action is not required however, report will be referral.
b. Meets: Meets established standards.
c. Above Average: Performs beyond established standards and expectations.
d. Clearly Exceeds: Performs at a higher level than most of their peers, far exceeds standards and expectations, unique performer.

Advice for the Corporal or Sgt even acting ones: During supervision and leadership - I become a leader by what I do. I take the initiative and seek responsibilities, and I face situations with boldness and confidence. I estimate the situation and make my own decision as to the best course of action. No matter what the requirements, I stay with the job until the job is done; no matter what the results, “I assume full responsibility.”

Amaury Murgado @ 4/24/2012 4:19 AM

@ Debby: You do your job and do the right thing is the answer. Yes you become a target and unpopular, but its either that or become the very thing you hate. If you do an evaluation that is fair, covers the entire eval period, highlight the positive as much as possible, and note all letters, awards, courses/schools taken, what else is there. If the person you are evaluating is a slug, then they get a slug eval. You can never really side step politics, friendship bubbles, or laziness among other supervisors and command staff. All you can do is your best and let the chips fall where they may. Its a tough road, but in the end, you can hold your head up high knowing you're not the problem but a possible solution. Author.

Ima Leprechaun @ 5/11/2012 6:07 AM

No matter how much the Administration denies it every performance evaulation is personal and subjective. I am proud of this eval I got from my Sergeant "This officer fails to understand the benefit to blindly obey orders". The order in question was an illegal order but I still got dinged for it on the eval. So its easy to see why most officers dont trust evals. It's all about personality and popularity and nothing more. Evals don't work, ever unless you work for Jesus Christ then maybe you'd get a fair eval. I just can't picture Christ as a modern traffic cop.

Ima Leprechaun @ 5/11/2012 6:16 AM

Our contract negotiators suggested we evaluate our Sergeants as part of a comprehensive evaluation process. The Administration cried foul saying we could not be trusted to fairly evaluate our supervisors, can you say double standard. I read something above about leading by example, that had to be in the military because police supervisors rarely lead by example. When they get promoted and they will eat their young. They become everything they hated in THEIR supervisor. We used to call it the Sergeant's breaking in period. Some came back around in about two to three years but some never looked back.

Ima Leprechaun @ 5/11/2012 6:38 AM

Glen@ you poor guy. My agency was on the merit system. We had no civil service (we never had any civil service due to the charter the city had) and when I started they were using the merit system. The merit system is also known as the buddy system. While I wrote more tickets than all the other officers combined (we had five btw) but it was not the violations that the administration wanted specifically enforced. For that I was paid less by working more. Really doesn't seem like it worked to me. Officers that hid all day and did absolutely nothing, not even to write a single ticket got more money than I did because they were in favor with the Chief. They didnt make waves and as far as anyone knew they weren't even on the force they did so little. So the merit system is nothing more than a complete waste of time. If it's not performance based then what good is it? And the flip side to that is exactly what criteria do you base the merit rise on? Arrests, tickets, walk throughs, escorts, warrant arrests, neighborhood drive throughs. I was taught to be a good all around cop. Do a little bit of everything including the neighborhood drive throughs which don't count as part of a merit system since they produce nothing but goodwill. How can you measure goodwill? I think its pretty important and so does the public but in a merit system it does nothing for you. We finally went to court and forced the city to negotiate with us and we threw the merit system out. My agency is now the highest paid and most professional Police Department in my State. I like contracts a whole lot better and they work.

Ima Leprechaun @ 5/11/2012 6:44 AM

I just noticed something all my posts are posted using the West Coast time zone times. I kept thinking it was earlier than it really was. I am in CST so I'm only two hours off on my post times. Up all night you get punchy...sorry.

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