The Effective Job Performance Review

Stephen L. Kent – The Results Group, Ltd.

First, a little Bedtime Story for all employees – particularly for those who might think this organization exists to give them a job:

Once upon a time there was a magical place where ones continued employment and promotional opportunities were predicated upon their willingness to demonstrate more value-added in the workplace than the sum of the resources they consumed. The End.

Secondly, who ARE we here? What kind of policing agency ARE we? Are we ONLY about handcuffs, light-bars, weapons and tactical proficiency? Are we ONLY about zero tolerance traffic enforcement and believe that if our officers aren’t getting complaints they aren’t doing their job?

Or are we some other kind of agency whose role, in addition to those things, is to contribute to economic vitality, tourism, business growth, property values, quality education and so on? What constituent-based results might we be able to measure?

Before any discussion of what to measure and how to measure, the Chief, Sheriff, Colonel or other CEO must ensure that he or she understands and has properly structured and seamlessly integrated the agency’s objectives, task lists, policies, procedures and performance reviews to reflect what is uniquely expected of policing by the citizens in the jurisdiction. If all an agency is doing is focusing upon, providing incentives for, training and evaluating high-risk, low frequency tactical issues – while the community, the mayor and the city council expects officers to be out and about solving a wide-range of community problems … well, Bear Bryant noted, “There are three things that can happen when you pass a football, and two of them are bad …

The typical, useless “performance evaluation” does little more than measure tasks and activities based upon faulty memories; the outside interference of staff support sections who have no accountability for outcomes but think they run the place; poor documentation and supervisory laziness with a bit of “personality” judgment and creative writing thrown in. Little wonder it is fodder for lawsuits, creates hurt feelings; fosters negative attitudes; if done at all is done infrequently and inconsistently; haunts employees long after they’ve left the organization; creates divisiveness between and among echelons; and teaches supervisors and subordinates alike … to lie.

Yes … to lie.

A few points to set the stage:

“Work” (“tasks”) is a very different commodity than “Results.” For the purposes of these few pages, please note that “Results” are always and forever in the mind of the consumer – your constituent. You and I do not get to decide what the Results are; only the constituent does. Why? It is their money. That is the People’s commission you have earned. It is the People’s money that pays wages and benefits. That is the People’s Badge; the People’s vehicle; the People’s uniform; and you work in the People’s house.

The People – the market – and the market alone – decides what it will buy, when it will buy it, what color it will be, when it will be offered, what size it is and the qualifications of the people who produce the product or service.

You get more of what you measure, subsidize and call attention to. It should follow then, if the public buys only the Result, we might want to ensure that we a) know what Results they want, b) structure our performance outcomes accordingly; c) train all employees in the light of those expectations; d) ensure that all “job descriptions” accurately reflect the required Results for the position; and e) give employees ongoing inspiration to demonstrate pride in producing those community-based Results.

Otherwise, I predict this is a description of exactly what you will get: employees doing and griping about as few tasks as possible in the maximum amount of time for the most amount of overtime and least amount of effective communication and ownership. As I frequently note in our leadership academies, “I believe that in a godless society, all we’re left with is ‘MeMeMe’.” In an organization where cultural values, a clear mission, clear objectives and success measures are non-existent, vague, interpreted as optional, outright disregarded, or not otherwise embraced, you will see a high level of entitlement mentality, selfishness, union activism, “grievances” and other symptoms of ‘MeMeMe” in the workplace.

We don’t know what your form will look like, nor do we know what your performance standards will be. Yet, when all is said and done, the Position Performance Review should at least meet the criteria outlined in the last part of this paper.

However, before anyone goes off, forming “committees”, creating a process and forms and meetings and training … it is critical to understand what “performance” really means.

Our word, “performance” (Old French: “parfornir” = to carry out – as in to complete a promise; an accomplishment … read that, a result), and our word, “productivity” are synonyms. “Productivity” (Greek: “productum” = to bring forth, as in product) is defined as “units of output (predetermined, community-based results/expectations) divided by units of input (available resources). Most agencies, particularly those who believe it is somehow rational to be “stats-driven” merely measure how “busy” employees are (units of input (tasks that were done) divided by units of input (within certain time frames) and not whether employees were “productive.”

Law Enforcement regularly misses opportunities to focus employee time and talent on meaningful, community-based outcomes. Why? Because many people of rank are either lazy, unimaginative, fearful or selfish – seeking only to measure “tasks” (work) rather than taking time to learn what “outcomes” the community really requires and effectively aligning time, talent and treasury accordingly.

To illustrate how I believe Law Enforcement is missing opportunities, and with an eye toward where those opportunities might be, please indulge me while I describe for you the relationship I have with My Electric Company:

Like most of you, am a consumer of electricity. As do most consumers, I sit down and pay my electric bill on a monthly basis. I really do not think much about (actually I do not think about them at all) the people at My Electric Company any more than the typical American thinks about Police on a regular basis. (Police, like My Electric Company, are only a problem when they aren’t there …)

Regardless of what the people at My Electric Company measure … the myriad of tasks and activities their StatzFiends count and keep track of … I do not really care about how many miles of wire they had to string or bury; I do not care whether they had enough fleet or tools to get the job done; and I do not care whether they had enough training or staff. When it comes down to it, I do not even care who’s sleeping with whom at My Electric Company; I could care less about their prurient little rumor and gossip mill.

You see, as a customer, all I want to know about My Electric Company is written on their little sign on the wall of virtually every room in America. The sign clearly and simply points out that consumers may accomplish one of two results on that little console: “OFF” and “ON”.

That is really all I bought from the fine people at My Electric Company – a simple set of predictable results: “OFF” or “ON”. If I touch their little sign and one of those two results does not occur, I am not a happy customer.

So long as those two results are there, I will call it “My Electric Company.” The day My Electric Company fails to produce the results I bought, they will become “The Electric Company.” Unhappy customers tend to not want to pay for more activities and they aren’t concerned about all the excuses about why the thing wasn’t delivered; they pay for results. Unhappy customers distance themselves from connecting with the problems their service provider experiences through the very language they use.

It is the same in your industry. Despite the things that your resident StatzFiend wants everyone to count, the public really does not care. Law Enforcement is not good at understanding and promoting the equivalent of “OFF” and “ON” from the constituent’s perspective. There is a big difference between “the” Police Department, “the” Sheriff’s Office, “the” State Police and “Our” Police Department, Sheriff’s Office, or State Police.

Results – they are really the only things the public bought. For Law Enforcement to secure and maintain Strategic Advantage you and all your buddies – and all future employees – are going to have to do a better job of identifying, understanding and focusing on the “OFF” and “ON” that taxpayers purchased. And it has little, if anything, to do with the majority of the symptoms your lazy, unimaginative, fearful, selfish StatzFiends and PolicyWorshipers count.

Reward results that have relevance in the mind of your constituents; cease providing incentives to anyone who finds misguided value in measuring silly stuff. We know that we get more of what we count; count the right stuff.

Demand clarity on the destination and measure how close you are getting to it; cease counting only the steps you have taken or the number of times someone waved their arms. And, for the sake of us all, stop counting the number of miles you have already traveled and the number of birds that flew past you on the journey.

No one cares. It is as simple as that.

TOXIC ORGANIZATIONS HAVE PREDICTABLE DISEASES. WHAT FOLLOWS IS A FREE VACCINE FOR ONE OF THEM

Consider these criteria for an effective Position Performance Review System:

  • The basic requirement is trust. Supervisors should not concern themselves with being “liked.” They should concern themselves with earning respect and maintaining an environment where there is mutual trust between and among team members.
  • Do them. It’s your job to create an environment where free-flow of open, honest communication is encouraged, welcomed and appreciated. Conduct effective performance reviews. Why? Because, when faced with a lack of information people tend to fill the vacuum with bad news. 
  • Teach Supervisors how to conduct them. Again, conducting performance evaluations must be a condition of maintaining status as a supervisor. It’s their job. As with anything, training on effective techniques is critical to producing agreed-upon results.
  • Don’t be shy. Many of my acquaintances across the Nation who work in Law Enforcement are fearless – running toward the danger rather than away from it; going toward the noise rather than away from it; taking on extreme physical risk on a regular basis … yet, many also turn into crybaby-pee-pee-pants at the mere thought of providing performance guidance to co-workers and subordinates. I have never known anyone to die while receiving performance guidance and fewer who have died while providing it. Also, if you fear someone won’t like you if you provide them with ways to improve performance, guess what, they didn’t like you to begin with. 
  • At the beginning of the review period ask people how they’ll know they are a success at the end of the review period. Too many organizations ask employees, “What are your goals?” only to be met with blank stares and stammering … followed by an arcane list of one or two tasks. Meh. I have learned it is much more effective to ask, “How will you know you are a success in 3 months? In 6 months? In a year?” As an alternative, ask, “Please make a proposal for what you’re going to do to help your team achieve our Mission, Vision and Long-Range Objectives.” Or, “What do you want to proud of at the end of this period?” (And please? Stop with the “goal” setting? Unless you’re playing football or hockey, the term “goal” is out of place. In organizations we have objectives.)
  • There is shared accountability for achievements. The review process must recognize that both parties have made choices that have affected the results for the rating period. Anyone conducting a job performance review must accept accountability for soliciting employee feedback about their own supervisory performance as well as providing performance guidance to their subordinates. It is the 21st Century – not the 19th Century.
  • There is mutual understanding between supervisor and subordinate of the purpose of the review. The review is intended to document progress toward previously agreed-upon objectives and standards of performance, and to agree upon objectives and standards of performance for the upcoming performance period. Therefore, the performance review is nothing more than a joint planning effort between supervisor and subordinate. It may consist of little more than: “With regard to my promises at the beginning of this rating period, Here’s what I said I would do; Here’s what I have actually done; and Here’s what I’m going to do next …”
  • Conduct of performance evaluations MUST be consistent among and between all supervisors at all echelons. Why? Because employees shop for “Yes” and Union representatives and defense attorneys shop for inconsistencies. The reality is, if you have two systems, you have no system. Imagine how any even off-the-rack model moron defense attorney is going to use that against you? I cannot overstress – nor will I ever apologize for appearing to overstress – the critical requirement for a party line among all Supervisors at every echelon about how to interpret plans, policies and procedures.
  • Performance evaluation is based upon accurate data. It is, therefore, critical that objectives and performance standards are established at the beginning of the rating period and accurate data is maintained during the rating period (i.e., Weekly Success Reports). No secrets; no surprises.
  • It is conducted with sufficient frequency to ensure effective communication between supervisor and subordinate. Performance reviews should be conducted at least quarterly and at the time of organizational change. There must be NO SURPRISES at the time of the performance discussion.
  • It is tied to the agency’s mission, vision and long-range plan. Every employee needs to demonstrate how accomplishment of their daily tasks contributes to achievement of the agency’s mission, vision and long-range objectives and standards of performance. The fact is, how can a meaningful performance review be conducted if the agency does not have a strategic plan that outlines what the community-based expectations are?
  • The procedure is simple. Pareto’s Law implies that 80% of results will come from 20% of actions. Measure only those actions which are critical to achievement of the mission, vision and long-range objectives of the organization. In the course of the past 35 years I have seen so-called “performance evaluation” procedures with forms consisting of as many as 16 pages loaded with some StatzFiend’s idea of lists of so-called “performance indicators” … none of which is worth a bucket of warm spit. One page will do. It is a simple Action Plan format. (See link to downloadable Action Plan/Change Proposal format, below.)
  • It is not based upon “failure” nor may it be a punitive tool – rather, it is based upon steadily improving actual performance to meet agreed-upon objectives. Set your team members up for success – not failure. Success is the only thing taxpayers want to pay for. Success is the only thing your Colonel, Chief, Sheriff or Director should be presenting in that newest presentation to the community. Discipline means, “to teach”, not to “punish.” However, consider this: my supervisor was an outstanding field officer … able to find and deal with problems. He or she was so good at those technical skills that they were promoted to supervisor. Now, exactly what did I think was likely to happen in my performance evaluation? The reality is, if the only time I, your supervisor, gives you performance feedback is when you’ve done something wrong, that is NOT supervision, NOT management and sure isn’t Leadership. We MUST start catching people doing something RIGHT in organizations, since that is the statistical norm for most people. Further, I’m going to put you on the witness stand right now. You’re being grilled by a defense attorney. What do you want to have in your back pocket as evidence of who we are as an agency: only documentation of the few times we’ve screwed this thing up, or a list of the thousands-and-thousands of times we’ve done it right? Your call.
  • It avoids numerical ratings. Attempts to reduce human behavior to some artifice of numerical ratings is simultaneously insulting to humans and lazy. Doing so promotes “SAT score” comparisons over the watercooler; is used to justify victim-think and promotes unnecessary conflict between supervisors and subordinates. The fact is, there are only three options to actual performance: “Sir, Ma’am, I either did not do what I promised I would do; did exactly what I promised I would do; or did more than I promised I would do.” Therefore, the only rational scale is: (-, =, +).* This scale and the language behind it shifts proof of performance onto the individual employee rather than having the “evaluation” be the sole accountability of the reviewer. Numerical systems promote “gaming” of performance indicators, complaints about “subjectivity” and a host of other victim responses.
  • Any performance indicator that can be “gamed” is an improperly written performance indicator. The reality is something either happened or it didn’t happen. As your subordinate, I either didn’t do what I promised I would do, I did what I promised I would do or I did more than what I promised I would do. No gray areas. No more side-stepping accountability. No more “I was gonna …” And, while we’re here, anyone who “games” a performance indicator should be fired for lying and prosecuted for theft of public funds.
  • Eliminate Stupid Obstacles And All Other Stupid. Here’s the champ: “No one is ever going to get a ’10’ on a performance evaluation as long as I’m in charge.” Then, what is the purpose of a ’10’ there, Sparky? Oh, and while you’re at it, explain why you have employees who just do the minimum … 
  • Shift the accountability for proof of achievements onto the employee. In the previous bullet point, please note that I did not say, “Did not meet standards;” “Met standards;” or “Exceeded Standards.” I said, “I either did not do what I promised I would do; did exactly what I promised I would do; or did more than I promised I would do.” Put accountability where it belongs – onto the individual.
  • Avoid this: Completing an “eval” in secret and leaving it in a subordinate’s inbox in the dead of night without warning is a particularly despicable form of cowardice and deceit. Sit down; have a cup of coffee; talk about the future and successes and opportunities. If the organization doesn’t behave honestly and openly don’t expect employees to behave honestly and openly. The fact that this information is news to some folks makes me sad that I can write the English language.
  • One Size Does Not Fit All. While every person with supervisory accountability must be held accountable for focusing upon leadership objectives (planning, organizing, leading and controlling); and every employee must be held accountable for team behaviors, most technical tasks and results vary from department-to-department and from echelon to echelon. The performance review form and procedure must respect differences in accountability for technical performance. Treating all employees as if they are the same – or in contrast to one another – is lazy and insulting to your team.
  • The Line Should Provide Performance Feedback To Support Staff. The reality is, only Patrol and Detention professionals can tell Records, Evidence, Dispatch/911/Communications, Clerical, Administrative Support, Civil, Information Technology, Fleet Management, Finance, Personnel, Public Information Officer and others whether they have contributed to or detracted from Officer Safety, Officer Productivity and the Quality of Investigations. Patrol and Detention Professionals – the LINE – are the customers; Staff Support team members are suppliers of services to the Line. Therefore, it is most effective when Line Supervisors provide such feedback in addition to the respective supervisors of Staff Support sections. Performance. Not “personality” feedback. Performance.
  • Make It Whine Proof. An example: in one of my client organizations there are six Sergeants. On a monthly basis those six Sergeants sit down together and conduct performance/ action plan reviews with one-third of the non-supervisory team members in the organization – sworn and non-sworn. So, every fourth month, each employee sits down with the Sergeants and has a discussion consisting of “Here’s what I said I would do;” “Here’s what I actually did;” and “Here’s what I’m going to do next.” When the discussion is over there is no room for any team member to  complain that an individual supervisor was “out to get them” or other manner of complaint. Why did those Sergeants decide to do performance evaluations this way? Because they decided that it is important to team members and the community … and they know it is their job as Sergeants. Not difficult actually.
  • Avoid Software. Using software that allows supervisors to simply cut-and-paste narratives into a performance evaluation is likewise lazy and insulting. There must be thought. We pay supervisors to THINK! There must be effective communication. We pay supervisors to COMMUNICATE! As much as anything, using software is an accountability dodge for supervisors and teaches cops to lie.
  • It must NOT be tied to salary. A discussion of “performance” and “salary” should NEVER occur in the same meeting. They are separate entities (clue: “salary” is a unit of “input”). And, combining the two merely teaches cops to lie. Until Law Enforcement figures out what true community-based OUTPUT is and the relative value of leveraging available or future INPUT to produce that output, stay away from combining the two. Oh, there are going to be lazy, unimaginative, fearful, or selfish folks in staff support functions (finance, human resources, etc.) who lobby to make the connection, perhaps even determine salary increases based upon their misinterpretation of what the word “performance” means; they are to be resisted and re-trained. While we’re at this juncture, a little ideological consistency would be helpful: While I have seen people get salary increases in consideration of what someone thought was excellent “performance” I have yet to see anyone get their salary decreased using that same logic. 
  • Avoid this: Ridiculous “performance evaluations” tend to be capped off with one of the WORST, most pathetic sentences in the English language (often found at the end of the document, just above where the employee is supposed to sign): “My signature affixed hereunto does not mean that I agree with anything in this evaluation. It merely means that I have received a copy of it.” And all this in an industry that banters about words like “integrity” and “accountability”… C’mon people – you are better than this. You MUST BE better than this. (On a positive note: So long as people continue such flawed, toxic procedures, I will have a company.) 
  • Senior managers have no authority to modify the performance reviews conducted by their subordinates. Any time a senior person modifies a performance review conducted by a subordinate, the net effect is undermining the authority of the initial reviewer in perpetuity. Avoid creating situations where people can say, “I didn’t like what mom or dad said, so I’m going to grandma or grandpa…” And to any Colonel, Sheriff, Chief, Director, Undersheriff, Chief Deputy, Deputy Chief, Major, Captain or Lieutenant who tells me they want to be able to change the performance evaluation of the subordinate of a subordinate, well, these are usually the same people who won’t fix a traffic ticket. If someone screws it up, teach them how to do it properly; but don’t take away the authorities and credibility of all other supervisors as an attempted solution to a stupid symptom. That would be lazy. A little ideological consistency goes a long way.

And, since you’ve gotten this far, I remind you, LISTEN, truly LISTEN to one another.

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Article written by

Stephen L. Kent, founder and president of The Results Group, Ltd., has more than 30 years of leadership, training and facilitation experience. As a leadership & training consultant, he specializes in helping organizations design and implement programs to improve personal, leadership and organizational effectiveness, strategic planning, issues management and community engagement. Steve is a dynamic speaker who is known for his straight talk that gets right to the heart of key issues. He and his family reside in Oro Valley, Arizona.

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