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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?

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