Employee Performance Evaluations

With the right information & training, you don’t have to dread performance evaluations

By Ray Gayk
Published Wednesday, June 1, 2011 | From the June 2011 Issue of FireRescue

Like many officers in the fire service, my employee evaluation training came from screwing things up and asking a bunch of questions, trying to figure things out on my own. But even if proper training were widely available, many supervisors still wouldn’t run to their desks to complete this task because evaluations can be uncomfortable to present; they take a long time to complete; supervisors can be ill-prepared; employees can react negatively; and the supervisor may have failed to do their job and document the employee’s performance.

On the Up Side
Unfortunately, we tend to look at the negative aspects of performing an employee evaluation and rarely look at the positive aspects. In reality, evaluations help identify areas that need improvement; they reward the supervisor’s good behavior by illustrating the fact that they’ve been paying attention; they let an employee know where they stand with the agency; and they can motivate an employee to improve.

Remember: An employee evaluation is as important to the employee as it is to their supervisor because it’s a legal document that’s considered the official record of the employee’s job performance. As such, it sets the standard for how the employee will be evaluated in the future and it can be used to determine whether the employee should be promoted or disciplined.

Documenting Discipline
Employee performance evaluations take on an entirely different role during the discipline process because the written evaluation is often the first document that the human resources (HR) department looks to, and it’s the only document that establishes the employee’s performance baseline for the past year.  

Most HR departments look at performance evaluations to determine behavior patterns and what the supervisor did about any perceived problems; however, when it comes to scrutinizing an employee evaluation, chief officers, attorneys, union representatives and everyone else involved in a potential discipline case will also take a hard look at your work—or lack thereof.

The 4 Phases
There are four phases of the employee evaluation period: 1) Establishing expectations and goals, 2) Follow-up, 3) Documentation and 4) Evaluation meeting. Let’s take a closer look at each.  

Establishing Expectations & Goals
Clearly stating your expectations and goals is the first and most critical part of the evaluation process. If an employee doesn’t fully grasp what you expect of them, you won’t be able to take disciplinary measures if/when they fail to meet your expectations.  

Establishing a good understanding of your expectations takes time, not only because it’s difficult to cover every expectation in one meeting, but also because, from my experience, knowing what you want someone to do can seem easy, but effectively communicating what you want from them is an entirely different thing. This is why having a well written set of expectations is a good place for officers to start.

One great way to measure job performance and motivate employees to stay on task is to establish a set of attainable and measurable goals. Focus on setting goals that assist the agency and help the employee reach some of their personal goals, such as obtaining a particular certificate, becoming a qualified driver, establishing a new department program, doing well on a promotional exam, etc.

Follow-up
The “follow-up” involves making sure that people stay on task and reach their goals, which involves an incredible amount of work, but is often what separates great company officers from the not-so-great ones. Anyone can say what their expectations are or what they’re going to do to help an employee reach their goals, but it takes a special officer to make sure it all happens.

When someone fails to meet clearly defined expectations, the situation must be dealt with quickly. The moment an officer ignores a failed expectation, they’re basically saying that it’s acceptable to fail, and they’ve set a new standard.

Following up is fairly simple when you put it into perspective: When people get out of line, straighten them out, and when you tell someone you’re going to do something, do it.

Documentation
Documentation doesn’t have to be painful, as long as you do it consistently throughout the evaluation period. The more you document, the easier it will become. Tip: One of the best ways to stay on task is to keep a log on each employee you supervise that accurately reflects their performance throughout the evaluation period.

As for what to write, document both the good and the bad. If you document something that didn’t go so well, the employee should have the opportunity to improve, and the improvement process should be documented.When documenting any incident, use the following outline:

  1. Specify the date, time and place that the incident occurred.
  2. Specify the problem.
  3. Develop and document an improvement plan.
  4. Set specific goals and timeframes for improvement.

Follow up with your plan for improvement and document the results.

Evaluation
It doesn’t take much time to properly document an employee, and the small amounts of time you do spend on documentation will pay off big when you’re preparing an employee performance evaluation.

The format of the employee performance evaluation documentation is identical to the format you use for individual incidents. If you’ve documented your employees on a computer throughout the year, go back to these specific events, review your records and use them in the performance evaluation.

At this point, the lion’s share of the documentation has—or should have been—completed already, since you’ve been documenting your employees throughout the year. As a result, you’ll have a well documented performance evaluation that actually means something, that benefits both the employee and the organization, and can be upheld as a legal document.

Conclusion
Everybody wants to be recognized for doing a good job, and everyone wants to know what they can do to become a better employee. So, as an officer, if you want to de-motivate your employees, spend about five minutes on their evaluation. Your personnel will take their evaluation as seriously as you do, and they will quickly recognize whether you’ve paid attention or not. So take the time to invest in your employees’ performances, recognize their accomplishments, be honest with them and give them the opportunity to improve. The payoff is huge and worth the investment.

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