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Topic Summary - Performance Evaluations

Topic Summary - Performance Evaluations

Center for Policing Excellence



There currently appears to be a debate that extends well beyond the law enforcement arena regarding whether or not performance ratings (aka performance evaluations, appraisals, etc.) should become a practice of the past. Unfortunately, there seems to be little to no scholarly literature studying this question in a law enforcement context. There is, however, an extensive conversation on the topic in the business realm. The article summarized below is an example that examines both sides in a recap of a debate from the 2015 conference of the Society of Industrial and Organization Psychology. Ultimately, the message seems to be that the current system is flawed and improvement to evaluations is the minimum that should be done.


Articles And Reports

Getting rid of performance ratings: Genius or folly? A debate

Across multi levels within agencies, performance management processes fail to deliver desired results and are seen as ineffective and/or inaccurate. Surveyed employees found ratings neither valuable nor motivating. How ratings and goal setting are done, along with the associated documentation are seen as “inconsistent with the goal of providing frequent, credible, and useful feedback about performance.” This article explores whether or not to use or abolish performance ratings.

Abolishing Performance Ratings

Lack of Training

  • Supervisors, with little to no training, are required to aggregate their own performance observations with the reports of others to make an objective judgement about the employee’s performance.

  • Current methods of providing training for evaluators have failed to return marked improvements in evaluations.

Inconsistency Among Raters

One study suggested that the correlation between raters in the same organization was approximately 0.50 (1.0 is considered a perfect correlation).

Ratings Area Affected by Outside Factors

  • Both factors from society and the organization affect the context under which ratings are made.

  • These factors include: economy, labor market, and organization climate and culture.

  • Ratings are also affected by the goals of the individual evaluator, including:

    • Using ratings to influence future performance
    • Using ratings to maintain/improve relations between supervisors and subordinates.
    • Using ratings to improve the standing of the supervisors or workgroup.
    • Completing ratings based on how the evaluator wishes to be perceived
  • There are little to no tangible rewards for accurate ratings or consequences for inaccurate ratings.

Conflicting Purposes

  • Ratings are used both for determining rewards and providing constructive feedback.

  • Authors suggest that separate mechanisms should be utilized for rewards versus feedback.

Feedback Not Accepted and/or Acted Upon

  • Individuals’ self-ratings are consistently higher than ratings from others.

  • Individuals tend to attribute perceived failures (ex. Low ratings) to external factors that are out of their control.

Maintaining Performance Ratings

The premise of this argument is to improve performance ratings and the associated management paradigm rather than abandon them altogether.

Performance is Always Evaluated

  • Evaluation provides a starting point where individuals in a population differ in skills, achievements, and attributes. Subsequently, this assists with the management of individuals and the collective performance.

  • Knowing where an individual is currently and where the want/should be in the future provides a basis for constructive conversation surrounding change and professional development.

  • Companies claiming to have “eliminated” ratings, may actually not have really done so. Examples of what has been done include:

    • Using a number, representing performance that translates to a recommended salary increase or bonus.
    • A simplified rating process with fewer dimensions.
    • Deloitte recently adopted a three-item scale with a promotion potential as a fourth item.

Perceived Value of Evaluations

  • Strong performers tend to be attracted to organization that recognize individual contributions and differentially reward strong performance.

  • Millennials are more competitive and receptive to relative performance feedback.

Application of Evaluations

  • Evaluations should include how to partner with the employee to enhance performance versus the performance being presented as an inherent quality of the employee.

  • No reason to believe that eliminating evaluations will inspire an increase in frequency and/or quality of employer-employee conversations. Especially, if they were not occurring in the first place.

Citation: Adler, S., Campion, M., Colquitt, A., Grubb, A., Murphy, K., Ollander-Krane, R., & Pulakos, E. D. (2016). Getting rid of performance ratings: Genius or folly? A debate. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 9(2), 219-252.

Public employees and performance appraisal: A study of antecedents to employees’ perception of the process

This article brings up a number of points already articulated in the above debate, notably the idea of competing purposes of performance appraisals (development versus evaluation). However, the primary focus of this article was to examine the factors that enhance employee acceptance of the performance appraisal process. The authors divided the acceptance of performance appraisals into two different areas:

Procedural Justice (process): “the extent to which employees believe that their job performance is fairly assessed and their supervisor has the capacity to assess their performance in a fair and valid manner.”

Distributional Justice (outcomes): “the extent to which employees believe that the rewards they received from the organization is related to their performance inputs and the extent to which employees believe that their work outcomes, such as rewards and recognition, are fair.”

The determined that the following factors increase employees’ sense of procedural and distributional justice:

  • Employees need to have the perception that the appraisal is being used primarily for their professional development. This “implies that the organization values the employee’s contribution” and wants to facilitate their professional success.

  • There must be a high degree of trust between the supervisor and the employee. This level of trust facilitates open communication between the supervisor and employee during the appraisal process.

  • Employees must be involved in the performance appraisal standard and goal setting. This allows them to share power with supervisors and feel that all involved see collaboration as an important part of the process. For employees, this also fosters a sense of ownership in the overall appraisal process and helps them understand how their work is related the overall goals of the organization.

  • Related to the above points, employees must feel empowered to voice concerns and opinions about the process. Employees’ sense of justice increases as they able to offer more input to be considered.

Some points that could significantly affect the level of acceptance in a law enforcement setting and should be taken into consideration:

Union Membership: Members of unions had a more negative view of the distributional justice of performance appraisals, since many members prefer to be rewarded based on seniority versus merit. However, members have a higher acceptance of the procedural justice of appraisals. The authors posit that they could be because of the protections that union membership may afford them in the appraisal process.

Rank and Tenure: Employees holding a supervisory position, have worked for a significant length of time in government, and/or who work at headquarters will have a high acceptance of distributional justice.

Age, Salary, & Education: An increase in these characteristics also is linked to an increase in the acceptance of distributional justice.

Citation: Kim, T., & Holzer, M. (2016). Public employees and performance appraisal: A study of antecedents to employees’ perception of the process. Review of Public Personnel Administration, 36(1), 31-56.