Face-to-face feedback should replace heavy-handed reviews

Dear Joan:
I am a police officer in a large urban area. In the past year, Sergeants began using a Performance Review form to document positive/negative work performance for patrol officers. For example, the Sgt. writes a Performance Review up on an officer because they had several reports that needed corrections during the week. The officer is called into the supervisor’s office, the Performance Review is read by the officer who then signs the form which has a box checked for Work Quality and a narrative outlining the issue.

This procedure has created conflict and negative feelings between patrol officers and the immediate supervisors. I feel that many issues addressed in the Performance Reviews could be handled more informally. The Sergeants say that it is a means of documenting officers’ performance for evaluation purposes and to avoid any officers from saying in the future that they were never talked to about particular issues in their performance.

This system is apparently taught at the training schools for the supervisors. I wonder whether the negative results of this system far outweigh the benefits management is trying to achieve. Do other agencies or private companies monitor and evaluate their employees in similar ways? What can be done to improve this situation?

Answer:
Okay, who wants to be a millionaire? Please answer the following question:

A performance review at the end of the year is:

a.      An opportunity to play "gotcha" and surprise the employee with everything they didn’t do correctly during the year.

b.      An opportunity to play, "He said. She said," and attempt to disprove each other’s perceptions.

c.      A good way for the organization to CYA if they want to create a paper trail and fire someone.

d.      An opportunity for the employee to have an honest dialogue which summarizes their performance. It covers what they did well and what they need to work on.

Is "d" your final answer? Of course it is. The policy you describe in your letter is like trying to hit a fly with a hammer. It’s overkill—Sergeants will miss the target and punch a lot of holes in the communication wall.

I suspect that there have been some problems in the past, where officers weren’t talked to about what they needed to improve until their performance review. Perhaps this is an overreaction on the part of management or the union. Understandably, this is an attempt to force the communication, so there isn’t disagreement later. However, it’s a bad idea. For instance, are officers being called in frequently to sign forms saying how they are doing things right? I suspect not.

The reason performance reviews exist in the first place is to hold managers accountable for meeting with their employees at least once a year to let them know how they stand. It is an opportunity for employees to hear the feedback and take responsibility for their own performance.

These "Performance Reviews" you describe, aren’t performance reviews at all. They are merely opportunities for the Sergeants to give the officer some coaching or feedback on something they are doing, or praise them for a job well done. Forcing employees to sign off on these incidents in this formal way assumes that there is a profound lack of trust and communication. A sign off will only drive a bigger wedge between the parties.

For instance, imagine an average couple who goes to a marriage counselor because they are having some communication problems. The counselor instructs them to document every time their spouse does something wrong, and then insist that they sign it to document that they admit wrongdoing. The only thing this would be good for is to build a case for divorce court. And that is exactly where this policy is leading you.

I work with a lot of organizations to design meaningful performance review processes and to conduct workshops on the subject, for both managers and employees. Recently, I posed this question to a group of managers and employees, respectively. In both cases they thought this policy was misguided. One person said, "I’m afraid for the people of that city. Those officers are likely to be so paranoid about making a mistake they could endanger the lives of the people they are trying to protect, by holding back from doing the right thing, for fear they’ll be written up."

My advice? Save the written documentation for troublesome patterns of behavior that are serious enough to warrant this amount of administration and time. Encourage on-going feedback throughout the year. Schedule semi-annual or quarterly meetings to review performance. Focus on making both parties more accountable. The managers need to step up their face to face communication and the employees need to solicit more feedback during the year. What to do with all the forms that won’t be used? I suggest a bonfire. (Offer to bring the hotdogs.)


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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