Dreaded Performance Evaluation

The employee evaluation process is a complex thing for organizations, including law enforcement agencies. All employees want praise for the things they do well. Most employees want to know from their bosses how they are doing in their jobs. Mature employees can handle hearing the things they need to improve upon. Some employees hate the discussion and will do everything from argue to say nothing, even in the face of many examples where they have not performed up to their job descriptions and the expectations of their departments.

As you rise in your organization, you move from writing evals for your frontline officers and civilian employees to writing evals for your supervisors. You will also be reading and approving their performance evaluations. These can range in quality from so good that you can use them as a template for others to follow, to so bad that you will have to ask that supervisor to start again, schedule one-on-one coaching, or insist on a training class that specializes in the performance evaluation process. 

Sometimes it’s not their fault. Some police organizations use outdated or poorly designed forms that were better suited for long ago. They measure the wrong things, don’t correctly capture if the employee has met important performance anchors (officer safety, communication skills, beat or service area responsibility), or still use overly complex five-point measurement systems that force supervisors to literally calculate the difference between a 3.9 employee and 4.2 employee.

Sometimes the culture of the agency doesn’t encourage evals, either annually or at all. When a sworn or civilian employee is told by his / her boss, “Here. Read this when you get some time, sign it, and put it back on my desk,” it suggests the culture doesn’t care much about measurement, accountability or praise. All employees are entitled to an evaluation meeting with their direct bosses, to hear what they do well, what areas they can improve upon, and what are their mutually agreed upon goals for the coming year.   

Your supervisors need to understand that the process and the required meeting is not a collected list of the employee’s sins over the rating period. It is not a form they should try to fill out as fast as possible, checking boxes, writing a few short paragraphs that use labels instead of behaviors, and giving everyone a “gentleman’s C,” just because they don’t want to have a hard and necessary conversation about improving performance with the employees who need it. If, as a boss, you allow half-done, poorly crafted evals to go forward, you are agreeing that they are not important.

Time spans and timeliness are critical parts of the process too. Some supervisors get trapped in the “recent” error where they only consider what the employee has done, positively or negatively, over the past few months, instead of the full rating period. They can only recall if it was really great – the employee rescued some nuns and orphans from being run over in a crosswalk – or really awful – the employee accidently ran over some nuns and orphans in a crosswalk.

And imagine that your supervisors or you dawdle around when it comes to writing or approving employees’ performance evals. Even though the document recommends them for a step increase, because of the combination of your tardiness and a pay freeze, those employees miss out. You blew their raise and they have the right to be angry. 

The performance evaluation form should be seen as a historical, legal, and necessary document that can help all supervisors, at every level, to jointly track and discuss their employees’ progress and goals over the span of their careers. Not doing them or not doing them well stresses out some employees who don’t think you think they are doing a good job. It’s a critical part of every supervisor’s role to see the evaluation process, and the employee, as important.

Steve Albrecht worked for the San Diego Police Department from 1984 to 1999. His books include Contact & Cover, Streetwork, Surviving Street Patrol, and Tactical Perfection for Street Cops. He can be reached at steve@contactandcover.com.

Published in Law and Order, Nov 2012

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