Webinar presenter Dr. Jeff Fox answered a number of your questions after his presentation, The Performance Management Process: Lessons for Criminal Justice Professionals. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: In my organization, I have a history of supervisors, overrating their employees, the majority of people receive that exceeds expectations across every category. So how might we start reconciling this issue and have supervisors provide realistic evaluations?
Dr. Jeff Fox:
Great question. Hard answer, but several things. First of all, the people at the top need to recognize that, if they don’t, this can be hard to fix. If they recognize it, then the next thing to do, to me, is retraining. It doesn’t have to be drastic, but it needs to be getting everybody on the same sheet of music. I like the idea of going through some case studies and taking a few examples. And what I see more often in this situation, is I had an area, that had about 220 troops, 8 different areas. And the guys would always say, don’t judge my area against another area. And in some ways, that’s true, because I might have a very rural area versus a very urban area where the jobs are going to be very different. The volume of work should be different. All this could be different. We’ve got to be consistent, right? Because I can’t be letting one of my supervisors give these outlandish, you know, candy cane evaluations and the other would be hard as nails. So, we have to be consistent. I wouldn’t go about pointing fingers or anything like that. I wouldn’t use it as an opportunity to bring them together and say, “Alright, let’s look at this. What do you all think? What does good consensus look like?” To me, part of it is getting some better training or some retraining on what a good evaluation looks like. How did we do it, how do we document it? And then, how do we get to a consensus? I’m going to tell you right now; it’s never going to be a perfect process. The second thing about that is, and everywhere is different about this, is to have somebody above those people looking at these, and making sure they’re consistent, and go, “Wait a minute. You’re saying this is, I don’t know…” So does that reviewer have the authority to even make that person change it. Right! So, I think it’s about making sure we all get the same sheet of music. We acknowledge this is what this would look like. This is what it takes to get to this, this is what should I do for this. It’s never going to be a perfect science, but getting consistency, agreement, training, and then getting everybody to understand what that looks like, and then having some sort of oversight on that. It’s not going to be easy. And the other part of it is, you’re going to have people, who are probably going to be upset if you see a whole bunch of a lowering of evaluations. That’s going to take real strong leadership to go under and explain that, right? That’s not going to be an easy task. That’s kind of the best answer I can give you on that. But I see it all the time, especially disparate between units, where you just have different types of supervisors, even in the same area. I had an area where I had three sergeants. My job, reviewing those sergeants’ evaluations of employees, was to make sure they were consistent across the board. So, I think that reviewer has a lot to do with it.
Audience Question: We have several new supervisors and we’re trying to come up with a better and easier way to document employee performance throughout the year. We’ve tried using notebooks, and we end up with multiple notebooks because we don’t have them with us all the time. Any suggestions about better approaches?
Dr. Jeff Fox: Yeah. That can be a difficult problem. One problem I see with that, too, is, first of all, that notebook, I think you need to make sure it’s an individual document for each person. What you don’t want to happen is to have a notebook with 10 different employees in it, and that notebook gets dragged into court, and now some defense attorney standing there, and they have a notebook of all 10 people, that’s a really bad idea. So probably one of the most important things about that is to have individual folders or whatever type of documentation process you have, where you don’t have different people mixed it up now. You might have all of your supervisors write into that.
I kind of liked the idea of it being automated to some degree. I think one reason for that is, if you’re not at the office if you’re not there, or if you work at a distance, you can all go in there and log into that and make the comments. But also, what happens sometimes when is say, you have an employee who works for you in your unit, and now you have that documentation and a file folder, and then they move to another unit. Maybe it’s not a promotion, maybe a transfer to a very similar job. Now, the question becomes, does that folder go with them, or do they get a fresh start? You could argue both ways with that. I would argue, well, why wouldn’t you take it with them? Because I’m hoping that folder is full of good stuff. Why would you leave behind all the good stuff, and if it happens to be full of bad stuff? Well, that’s not your fault. With a new start over one could say, “Well, nobody ever told me that.” Well, if they had a folder, you could say, “Three different supervisors already told you that, so don’t tell me you haven’t been told that yet.” I think, as a problem, we have a lot of agencies, first, we don’t document properly. Second, we don’t keep a history as long as we should. And we don’t move forward with them as they go. Again, it could be positive stuff as well as negative. So, first of all, don’t lump it up together. It really needs to be individuals. I liked the idea of digitizing that. I haven’t seen anybody who’s done that, but I don’t know that it couldn’t be done necessarily. And it would allow you different access. Your supervisor could go in and look at it pretty easily from a distance. And when working, I didn’t talk about this much or at all. I’m not opposed to remote work at all, but a lot of this creates more challenges for remote work, but you can do all this. So remote work is even more reason to do digitization of all this, I hope that gives you a little bit of an idea of what to do. But document it; I keep it individually. And the only way to get around the whole idea of having different notebooks is just to say we have one place we keep this, and that’s that employee’s office wherever it is or digitized.
Audience Question: A prior manager did a poor job of documenting issues regarding a problem, employee, that transferred departments, and that, I’m now managing. Are there any ways to overcome this, or do I just need to start that documentation now?
Dr. Jeff Fox: I hate to say it, but the short answer is, you’ve got to get started now because you don’t have a paper trail. If you needed to prove your case, if you happen to know through history, through verbal history, that this employee may have been told three times not to do something, and it came to court, or to a hearing, you don’t have written documentation that’s horrible. It’s not your fault, but you might have to actually bring in the people who told them that. Hopefully, they remember that, and they’ll say, “Yes, I told them that,” that’s the only other option. I wouldn’t try to go back and re-create a history. People might look at that’s kind of fudging, so you’re, pretty much, you’re going to have to start over with that. And it happens. It’s a shame, but that happens. And that’s, again, it could be all positive stuff. And that’s just as bad. And, they had always positive things, and then, you know, they don’t, you didn’t bring it with you, and they didn’t document. That’s why we got to do this right to begin with. That’s one of the reasons I really wanted to do this one, it’s so important to document.
Audience Question: I am having some issues with an employee’s attention to detail such as letters being inaccurate, missing information, and minimal effort. We have discussed this with them, and so they’re aware, but I’m not sure if this is an issue of a newer employees’ learning curve or them just being nonchalant. So, how do you give grace for a learning curve before documenting poor performance?
Dr. Jeff Fox: Well, I think a lot of it depends on a lot of time we put employees in jobs we don’t have training for, they just get thrown into it. They have to figure it out. So, if it’s that type of job, that we need to train them, we need to sit down with them and coach them and mentor them. I had areas where I had a lot of new people. So, I created example books. I had thick notebooks of every type of document those employees would ever fill out and they could go to it. And it will show them exactly how to fill it. I mean, it’s like a four-inch binder filled front to back and sleeves with examples of how to do it, right? So, I think that’s very beneficial for people. I really enjoy doing that. And sometimes I would actually have written instructions to go with it. Like, if you haven’t done this before, this is how you do it. If you don’t have a manual to go by, but to me, that’s a training issue and documentation issue, that should be fixable. And if there’s not, then that’s a progressive discipline, right? That, “Okay, I showed, in the beginning, nobody ever told you how to do it right. Here are examples of how to do it right.” What we would do, and every agency is different. We would actually do all reports, we would go through it, and if there’s anything wrong, we would write notes on it, and we would send it back to them to say, “You need to fix this and this.” We kept our notes, our notes were in their individual files. So, notes will also end up in that file for the end of the year, right? If you didn’t have any notes back, that’s pretty good, and you’re going to know what you’re going to get notes back. It’s going to happen. If you handle a high volume of work, you’re going to have little stuff you’ve got to fix. But fix it immediately, fix it continuously, and get them on the right sheet of music. And it should fix it. And if not then you’re going to have the issue of, well, does this person have the knowledge and the mental capacity to handle this, right? But once you’ve taken that out of the equation, then you start moving in a different direction. Maybe this person isn’t right for that job.
Audience Question: Can we, as supervisors work to help an employee identify and develop their goals and milestones for the coming year? I worry that it may impact their buy-in and commitment if I’m too involved.
Dr. Jeff Fox: Yeah, well, I think you could get too involved, you know. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with helping them do that. I’m going to give you examples. I had a supervisor I worked with, we were friends, and he had the idea that he was going to let everybody just do whatever they like doing. Well, that’s a terrible idea. I set up, so we covered 3 or 4 different areas. So, “If they like to do this, this, and this, but don’t want to do this, you’re not going to make them do that?” He said, “No.” I said, “So what happens when they have to do that?” I said, “How are they well-rounded? How are they prepared to move forward in the future?” What happens if they’d like to do traffic and just safety talks and stuff, but they don’t want to do criminal work, and then they had to get thrown into that?” And then, 10 years down the road, they go, “I’m tired of doing this, I want to do something else, I would be a criminal investigator.” And then you go, “Well, you didn’t prepare yourself. You never told me that.” Or “Maybe you didn’t tell me that, but I didn’t encourage you to get involved with criminal investigations.” So, I think there’s a balance to that there. You do want to know what your people want to do. You want to help them achieve that too. You, want to help them achieve that, “Hey, you want to do this for that? Well, first of all, you need to do a good job,” right? “I can’t give you extra duties if you can’t do your job right, you’re supposed to be doing, I can’t give you all this extra stuff.” “But, if you do the things, you do a good job, then I can give you extra stuff. I can find a school to send you to, I could put you on a special assignment.” Heck, I might even try to, “You want to be an investigator, I’ll tell you what you’re doing such a good job. I’m going to ask the investigative unit if you can over to work for about a week.” That means a lot, an awful lot. So, you don’t want to micromanage them, but you do want to know you should be looking at people and go, “Yeah, I know what that person wants to do. He wants to be an investigative person, wants to be a manager, this person wants to be an analyst.” And then how do you help them get there? So, there’s a balancing act. You can be a helicopter parent or helicopter supervisor, you don’t want to do that, right? But you don’t want to be totally removed supervisor either. There’s a balance, you got to strike there.
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