The Captain's College - Part 3

This article is the third in a series of articles based on the Captain's College webcast presented on Firehouse TrainingLIVE.

As with many things in the fire service, the use or should I say lack of use of performance guides and personnel evaluations are another critical aspect of the company officers duties. In this article we will breakdown and differentiate these two important documents.

Performance Guides
A performance guide is a tool used by the company officer to establish the foundation and expectations for the employee. As a supervisor, it is important that both parties, you (supervisor) and the employee (subordinate), are both operating on the same sheet of music. All too often the employee is left in the dark as to the expectations of the supervisor other than the proverbial, "Don't get in trouble". This shows both poor supervision and a lack of leadership and management, leaving too much open to speculation. When employees do not have clear expectations established by there supervisor, they are left to define the expectations by themselves. This leads to problems with employee performance and behavior.

A tool that the supervisor has at his disposal is the employee performance guide. Most organizations have these documents as part of the resources for supervisors to utilize in directing and managing personnel under their command. This document serves as somewhat of a contract between the employee and the supervisor which defines the expectations of the supervisor and establishes goals and objectives for the employee given a specified period of time. Not to be confused with a work improvement plan or the employee evaluation, the employee performance guide is not part of any disciplinary process or based upon negative work habits or behaviors, nor is it binding in any regard. It is simply a planning document used to assist in goal achievement and management of goals for both parties.

Supervisors are encouraged to use this tool to establish a positive foundation of expectations, habits, goals and objectives with their employees. From the employee standpoint, this document allows the them the first opportunity to sit down with their supervisor for a one-on-one and discuss their needs and the goals in which they wish to achieve over the given time period. This allows the employee the opportunity to hold the supervisor accountable to those items in which the supervisor has agreed upon to help the employee in the pursuit of individual performance.

Collectively this guiding document is a win-win for both parties. However, this planning document is a living document and is made to be adjusted and modified as needed throughout the evaluation period. It is a tool which the supervisor can use to keep abreast of the progress or lack of progress in which the employee is making based upon the discussions and goals set in the conception of the document. The best use of this tool is to sit down with it and the employee on a quarterly basis, reviewing the document and progress, thus making any minor or major modifications along the way. At the end of the evaluation period, it is best to summarize all the adjustments and supervisory notes to utilize together in creating an effective and legal Employee Evaluation.

Employee Evaluations
In conjunction with the employee performance guide, the employee evaluation is the foundational document that is kept on permanent record for the employee. This document is a legal document that is not a living document - so there is ability to make changes. Once it has been written, reviewed and agreed upon by the parties involved, or at times even contested, this document will stay with the employee for the length of his or her service with the organization.

It is vital that all company officers understand the gravity which this document holds. Many times these documents are the basis of pay raises, promotions, or even employment. Failure to provide the necessary work to do the proper job of completing these document and failure to fully grasp the seriousness of these documents are often referred to as "administrative felonies."

To develop the necessary skills to administer an effective and legal employee evaluation, it is recommended that all company officers work with both chief officers and human resources to determine the content and context that they are to provide in the employee evaluation itself. Organizations often have a variety of evaluations types. Each company officer must be well equipped to prepare these documents. The first time a company officer completes an employee evaluation should not be as a first-time company officer. In other words, organizations have a duty to provide both training and guidance for newly promoted company officers on the proper methods of completing the employee evaluations.

Company officers are encouraged to practice these skills by having the chief officers and human resource personnel create pseudo employees with varying skill levels and needs to use as practice for their development in this skill set. After practice sessions, the company officer will develop a personal style in which they administer these documents. Yet, all officers should follow clearly established guidelines and principles defined in a handbook by the organization on the proper administration and style in which these documents will be created.

A safe rule of thumb for administration style is provided below:

  1. Meet with employee and explain the process.
  2. Provide the employee with the opportunity to ask questions.
  3. Working with the employee establishes clear goals and expectations in employee performance guide.
  4. Review employee performance guide with employee and establish benchmarks and set next meeting with them. (Generally it is every quarter or as needed)
  5. Take comprehensive supervisory notes during the meeting and keep personal employee files in secure area.
  6. Give the employee a copy of the employee performance guide at end of meeting.
  7. Continue to meet with employee on determined dates, reviewing progress and determining if goals are being achieved or if documents need to be adjusted.
  8. Providing that the employee continues to meet standards and goals, notify employee 60 days prior to due date of employee evaluation. Establish a framework on the evaluation and notify employee of the content and context of evaluation. Note: Nothing on the Employee Evaluation should be a surprise to the employee. All items should have been discussed and documented in the meeting with the employee and documented in the supervisory notes of the company officer.
  9. Prepare a draft copy of the evaluation.
  10. Meet with a chief officer to review the evaluation. Bring all pertinent documentation to refer back to when questioning items.
  11. Prepare final document and meet with employee.
  12. Review all pertinent documentation and the evaluation with the employee.
  13. Provide an opportunity for the employee to write an evaluation summary.
  14. Provide proper signatures on all documentations and forward in a timely fashion to the appropriate authority.
  15. Give the employee a copy of the document and secure all documents away.
  16. Start the process over for the next rating period...

Nobody said being a supervisor was easy. Good supervisors are employee advocates. Take the time to prepare your people and yourself for the functions of the job and you will find less problems exhibit themselves as time goes by.

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Ed Hadfield, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, has worked his way through the ranks of the fire service over the last 20 years from firefighter to battalion chief. He was a captain for the ISO Class 1 Huntington Beach, CA, Fire Department. He is the Lead Instructor for Firetown Training Specialist and was awarded the 2004 California Training Officer of the Year.

Ed is recognized for his tremendous accomplishments in the area of Truck Company Operations, Firefighter Safety and Survival, Rapid Intervention Tactics & Strategy, Command and Strategy at the scene of fireground emergencies and his overall leadership in the fire service.

Ed is contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine and The Orange County Firefighter. He is a adjunct /instructor to numerous fire science programs, and lead instructor for Firehouse Expo, FDIC West, and numerous fire service conferences nationwide. He holds an Associates Degree from Santa Ana College in Fire Administration, a Bachelors Degree in Organizational Leadership for Azusa Pacific University and a Chief Officers Certification from the California State Fire Marshal. He is currently pursuing his Masters Degree in Leadership Studies.

Ed has presented two webcasts on Firehouse TrainingLIVE: High-Density Structures: Opening Up to Get Out! and The Captain's College. He has also participated in Training & Tactics Talk on Radio@Firehouse.

You can contact Ed through his training website: Firetown Training Specialist.

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