Many supervisors assume that performance appraisals are only about the subordinate being evaluated, but an evaluation almost always ends up being more about the supervisor. Let me explain why with an example.
At one point as a platoon lieutenant in the Army Reserve, I transferred commands and was assigned to a relatively inexperienced platoon that had two veteran sergeants. As I was organizing my office, my most senior platoon sergeant told me of a problematic officer whose 12-month performance evaluation was due. He told me the officer wouldn't score very high because he just wasn't cutting it.
I asked the sergeant if he had addressed these issues with his previous lieutenant and he assured me he had. I instructed him to let me see an unscored copy of this officer's evaluation so that I could familiarize myself with the situation. I was starting to wonder why something hadn't already been done.
I also thought this would be a good time to evaluate this side of the sergeant's work product. He had a reputation for being very strong on the action side of the house but low on the admin side. I was interested in how he had framed the problems, what solutions he had come up with, and what the outcomes had been. What I found out revealed much more about the sergeant and the job he had been doing than about the officer being reviewed.
The first thing that stuck out was the lack of the sergeant's documentation. There was plenty of mudslinging in the appraisal, but there were no references to specific examples, incident dates, or case numbers. There were only brief generalizations under each category. Worse, there were no references to corrective counseling, what actions may have taken place to correct any of the discrepancies, and if the actions had helped solve any problems. There were also no references to any follow-up counseling or comments from the person being evaluated.
When I asked the sergeant for his notes, copies of any corrective counseling, or examples of his remedial training efforts, he just rolled his eyes and said he had none. The evaluation was so negative that I asked him if anything positive had happened at all. Was there not even one time the officer had done his job well? The only thing I took away from our conversation was that the sergeant hadn't done his job.
I could not in good conscience allow this officer to receive such a poor evaluation without the proper documentation to back it up. I told my sergeant to add the necessary documentation or change the evaluation. As it stood, I would not put my name to it.
In the end, the officer received the minimum passing score, which was about the best that could happen under the circumstances. It shortchanged him in some areas but saved him in others. The sergeant did not appreciate my leadership style, and he was granted his transfer request three weeks later. The officer in question was later counseled and remediated, and he thrived under a different sergeant. He scored above standard overall on his next evaluation.
Several teaching points become quite clear. First, if you're doing a 12-month evaluation, it needs to reflect 12 months' worth of work and supervision. As the subordinate's supervisor, you should be able to provide at least one different example (date, case number, short summary) for each above standard or higher "bullet point." Second, in the narrative portion you need to include highlights of the year not mentioned elsewhere in the evaluation. You also need to include any letters of appreciation, awards, or schools the officer attended (or record if they didn't). Any evaluation must reflect a balanced approach, reflect the whole period, and not leave the reader with any unanswered questions.
Employment law makes it clear you must give an employee every chance, shy of exigent circumstance, to come back into the fold. The courts are very specific on wanting to see how you documented issues; used remediation; and if discipline was involved that it was fair, impartial, and progressive.
At the end of a performance evaluation, your command staff wants to see whether the employee being reviewed did well or not. They focus on how the person got there and why. They will only be able to do this if you have done your job by clearly and thoroughly presenting the information.
Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office and a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve.