Understanding Leadership

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Are we TRULY Using Our Evaluations Effectively?

As a person who has spent the last couple of years teaching and discussing the foundations of good leadership, said discussions inevitably turn to department evaluations. I hear from some officers who say that their departments have evaluations but often forget to evaluate their personnel; thus, leading to a feeling that if the department cannot remember to complete them, then they must not be very important. I also hear from agencies that have robust evaluation systems in place, with monthly or quarterly evaluations that involve good discussions between supervisors and subordinates. And I hear about evaluation systems that fall somewhere in between.
One of the most frequent complaints that I hear regarding evaluations is the heavy reliance on statistics. What do I mean when I say statistics? It is the low hanging fruit that so many departments turn to in order to create a measure of efficacy. Why do I consider statistics low hanging fruit? Well, let's face it, pulling up "numbers" from an agency's RMS is relatively easy these days. We can pull up car stops, tickets issued, arrest numbers, and the list goes on. While I can see some uses for statistics, I personally feel that a supervisor, and their agency for that matter, is being a bit lazy when they rely heavily on numbers for officer evaluations.
Here is my argument - let's say I have an officer that LOVES doing motor vehicle work. The officer may stop 20 cars per shift. We all know this person. The people who stop many cars are generally active officers. They may be doing some drug interdiction as well. When one stops 20 cars per shift, one is bound to get arrests, such as operating after suspensions, DWI's, open containers, etc. This officer, statistically speaking, is a rockstar. The numbers play well with the active motor vehicle officer.
But what about the officer that stops 5-8 cars per shift but also patrols the neighborhoods, stops to talk with citizens, checks on businesses after they have closed? Statistically, there is nothing there to measure, but this officer is performing a very important police function. Here is another example: say an officer takes a theft report. The officer looks into the case and after a few weeks develops a suspect. The officer then asks the subject to come in for an interview and the suspect ultimately confesses. Statistically, a supervisor will see a case number and an arrest. But what the supervisor should be paying attention to is the good police work that went into solving the case. This part, the actually paying attention to work quality and effort, requires work on the supervisor's part. Simply pulling up stats would not show the officer's effectiveness.
So, what is the take away here? If your agency is heavily reliant on stats to show officer efficacy, then in order to stay in the good graces of the supervisors, the officers may look to put up numbers and nothing else. Good leaders will look at the big picture and note ALL of the work the officers are doing, not simply the numbers that can be spit out of an RMS.
I found an article regarding police evaluations that was published in the '70's. As I read it, I noticed that not much has changed over the last four decades. Here is the link if you would like to read it: http://web.mit.edu/gtmarx/www/alt.html
If you are considering a remake of your evaluation system, let me give you some practical advice. First, ask the people that are getting evaluated what they would like to see in an evaluation system. Don't be afraid to ask your patrol officers. They are the ones with boots on the ground. They may very well have some good suggestions. Second, your evaluations should be more about the future than the past. A very good friend of mine, and good leader as well, uses the 25/75 rule. He feels that his evaluations on his personnel should be 25% about the past and 75% about the future. What do I mean about the future? I'm talking about setting goals and steps to achieve them.
When you think about it, a good leader will deal with problems and mistakes as they happen (DON'T EVER WAIT UNTIL EVAL TIME TO HIGHLIGHT MISTAKES). Therefore, there is no need to rehash mistakes that have been corrected. Why not use the evaluation as a platform for a leader and an officer to discuss where the officer wants to go, what s/he wants to be, etc. Why not use it as a platform for the leader to help the officer lay down some ground work for their ultimate goals? For example, if the patrolman says that s/he wants to be a sergeant, then the leader can recommend books to read or consider delegating tasks designed to enhance and develop the officer's skill set. In this manner, they will become better developed officers so that when they decide to go for a sergeant position, they are better equipped and more confident.
If you get anything out of my rantings here, I ask that you take a look at your evaluation system and ensure that they are painting a true picture of an officer's efficacy and not just funneling him/her into a numbers game. Remember, good and effective evaluations require work, but the pay off can be phenomenal.
Tim Jones