Performance Evaluations – A Supervisory Road map
By Captain Andrew J. Harvey, Ed.D.
Scene from the early 1980’s: The grizzled old sergeant calls the young patrol officer in to give him his evaluation. He throws the document on the desk in front of the officer, telling him to read it and sign it. The officer briefly scans the evaluation and signs it without comment, even though he notices some inaccuracies. The sergeant tells him to hit the street, and he is out the
Scene from the 1990’s and Beyond: The same old sergeant calls one of his new patrol officers in for his first evaluation after passing probation. Again, without discussion, he throws the review on the desk and tells the officer to read it and sign it. The officer thoroughly reads the evaluation and tells the sergeant he totally disagrees with it. He points out that he was only late for work twice, instead of the four times that are listed. He says he doesn’t like the way his attitude is described, and he demands the wording be changed. He informs the sergeant that he will write a rebuttal to the evaluation, and that he may have to file a grievance against the sergeant for picking on him. He then walks defiantly out of the room, muttering something about contacting his attorney. The sergeant, left speechless by this unexpected outburst, can’t understand how and why things have changed so dramatically.
Have things really changed this much? It would appear they have. The “me” generation has hit the workplace in full force, and law enforcement is no exception. Some officers are no longer so much interested in what they can do for their department, but rather what their department can do for them. Why this change has occurred is beyond the scope of this writing, but for the sake of this article, let’s assume this change has taken place over the past 10 years. There are a number
of supervisory techniques that may be used to deal effectively with this new breed of officer, but the scope of this piece will be limited to supervisor/subordinate interactions relating to the performance evaluation process.
The Importance of the Performance Evaluations
In order to improve our performance evaluation skills, supervisors must first be persuaded of the importance of the process. In those agencies that use evaluations in promotions and specialized assignment selections, the importance of supervisory evaluations is obvious. But what about agencies in which this is not the case?
Although an employee may or may not consider an evaluation important, it is necessary to assume that he does, because your job as a supervisor requires a thorough, honest and competent evaluation-regardless of his perception of its importance. Of course this task is accomplished more easily if you believe the employee will place great weight on what you have to say about
Finally, your evaluations of subordinates can have a significant impact on your own attractiveness as a candidate for promotion or choice assignments. Whenever you submit evaluations through the chain of command, all your bosses are reading these documents and forming impressions about your abilities as a supervisor, particularly your ability to accurately evaluate your own officers.
The Annual Evaluation
The annual evaluation is much more than simply writing down your impressions about a particular officer. Rather, it is the end result of a comprehensive yearlong process. Nothing in a yearly evaluation should come as a surprise to an employee. The competent supervisor will provide continual feedback-both positive and negative-on each employee’s performance throughout the year. This gives the employee a chance to improve constantly rather than
Obviously, thorough documentation will help to support your evaluation. Sometimes, this will take the form of a formal notice placed in the employee’s personnel file; at other times, it may be only a brief note in your daily chronological log. Whatever system you employ, however, it is much better to note that an employee was late to work “four times on the following dates” than to say an employee was late “a few times during the year.” The more specific you can be, the more solid and defensible your position.
Remember also that honesty really is the best policy. You owe it to yourself and your subordinate to be truly honest in your evaluation-a process that will require more moral courage than you may realize. It is always easy to say nice things about a person and discount the negatives, but this is not your job. As a supervisor, your honesty is necessary if he is to be able to critically examine his weak areas. With your help and guidance, these weak points may one day become strengths.
Of course, sometimes knowing what not to include in an evaluation is as important as knowing what to mention. Not all employees have weaknesses worthy of inclusion in an annual
The Evaluation Document
When the performance evaluation arrives on your desk, the first step is to review all documentation on the individual and speak to other supervisors who may have had occasion to deal with him. Make some notes to yourself-under such categories as “strengths”, “weaknesses”, and “future plans”-as you begin to sort through the information you have gathered.
Remember, you are evaluating the tasks the employee performs, not the traits he possesses. If you believe he is rude to citizens, you must be able to specifically identify what he did that was rude and when it happened. This is where your day-to-day documentation becomes so valuable.
Everything you put in an evaluation should reflect how the behavior you describe affects the job.
You can no longer expect to write that an officer is “rude and obnoxious” and leave it at that.
You must be able to back up what you say with specifics.
Before actually writing the evaluation you may want to arrange a meeting with the employee.
Call him in and tell him that you’ve been assigned to do his evaluation, but that you have not yet written it. Solicit his own perceptions of his strengths and weaknesses, and try to get a sense of what he would like to accomplish during the next evaluation period. Remember that an evaluation should be not only a review of the past, but also a roadmap for his future.
The employee’s input is important because he may bring something to your attention that you haven’t previously thought of, and by meeting with him before writing the document you demonstrate your respect for his input and the importance you accord his evaluation. You may be surprised by how much you and he agree on his strengths and weaknesses. Although there may be some areas where no mutual perspective can be reached, I have generally found this to be true with only the most obstinate employees. Even if this is the case, the employee will at least have had a chance to explain his position before his supervisor commits the review to writing.
A Plan For the Future
The discussion of strengths and weaknesses should be followed by a mutually conceived plan for improvement. Suggestions that the employee improve his formal education, attend advanced training schools, or study and prepare for specialized assignments and promotions are all valid.
Even more important, however, is how you, as his supervisor, can nurture his professional development and help him steer his career in the direction he wants it to go.
Completing the Evaluation
After completing the above-described groundwork, actually recording the evaluation should be a snap. In most cases, you can expect the employee to read and sign the review without protest, as he will be fully prepared to hear about his strengths as well as his weaknesses. He will also leave the room knowing that his supervisor cared about him enough to solicit his input and develop a plan for his future.