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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

If you answer that question honestly, you'll understand what kind of supervisor you are. Numbers tend to make politicians happy; making a difference by reducing crime trends makes citizens happy.

Writing Better Evaluations

If you are made to write evaluations then write a decent one. It's my opinion that an evaluation is more about the person writing it than the one receiving it.

Administrators look at the bottom line; they peek at the score and check to see if the officer is up to standard or not. Then they use that information to evaluate the supervisor: If the officer is not up to standard, what did you do about it? Why am I hearing about this now and not six months ago? Where is your documentation, including case numbers, dates, and times? Why isn’t it clearly stated in the evaluation?

It also works in the opposite way. When a supervisor writes such a good evaluation that it appears the officer walks on water, but there is no documentation to support it, administrators will immediately want answers. In other words, where’s the beef?

If it's a yearly PE, then why can't you come up with at least one detailed example for each listed competency rating? Things like "comes to work on time, looks professional in uniform, and knows her radio codes," are not examples of exceptional performance; they state minimum standards and point to a lazy supervisor if used to prove an exceptional rating. If you're the supervisor and you can't come up with examples to explain your position, the real question then becomes, what have you done for a year?

Documentation

You hear this all the time and yet we don't do much about it. Documentation is the key to a fair and valid PE. You have to document the good and the bad. No one incident (unless extreme) makes or breaks an evaluation. It's the patterns that are created by an officer's conduct and performance that do.

Documentation works for the officer as well. All officers should keep notes on themselves so they can compare what they feel they accomplished with what their supervisors write. I always ask my sergeants to send me a list of their accomplishments and major incidents before I write their evaluations. I am not embarrassed to tell you that I'm glad I do, because on occasion I have missed a few things and was able to incorporate them into the final product.

So how do you keep notes? There are many options, and you should choose one that works for you. I have an easy system I learned from one of my former lieutenants that works for me.

Take a daily planner/calendar and in the month page, right a brief description of the incident and time in the square for the date it happened. Then, go to the back of the planner where each day has its own set of blank lines. Once there, add the necessary details to help you remember later on. If you want more room, you can augment this approach by adding a running log on your computer. Write as much as you want and then edit later when you write the PE.

Those Hard-to-Write Bullet Points

It seems that a significant number of supervisors find writing the necessary bullet points for the listed evaluation competencies a difficult task. Books like "Effective Phrases for Performance Appraisals" by James E. Neal Jr. are very helpful when writing performance bullets. The author lists bullets in just about every category possible that you can use verbatim or modify to suit your individual needs.

There are many Internet sources that you can use as well. Typing in "employee evaluation phrases" in any search engine will help find you what you need.

For example, at www.uthscsa.edu/hr/pdfs2/phrases.pdf, you'll find a very useful four-page reference. But eventually you won’t need to refer back to these types of cheat sheets, as you will get in your own groove and be able to spit them out at will. One of my sergeants currently keeps his best written evaluation and uses it as a template for others.

Final Words

The biggest reason I dislike performance evaluations is that they are not a substitute for leadership. If a supervisor is doing his or her job consistently, then an evaluation becomes superfluous. Leadership is performed day to day, not once a year.

If you have to work with performance evaluations, then do it right by documenting all year round. Write performance bullets that include detailed examples. If your agency's evaluation form includes a narrative section, don't just cut and paste text from the bullets you've already written; write something else. A 12-month period should give you mountains of material to work from.

Don't write a bad evaluation because you're lazy. And don't accept a bad evaluation if you have the documentation to prove otherwise. Evaluations have a nasty way of working themselves into your life when it's convenient for someone else. Don't make it so convenient. 

Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office. He is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve, has 24 years of law enforcement experience, and has been a lifelong student of martial arts.

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