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Taking Charge of the Performance Review Process

Many departments have annual employee performance reviews to assess employee performance. Sometimes these reviews are perfunctory at best and inaccurate at worst.

Many departments have annual employee performance reviews to assess employee performance. Sometimes these reviews are perfunctory at best and inaccurate at worst. One supervisor I know referred to the performance appraisal process as a "once a year nightmare." I can honestly say that some of my past performance reviews have been little more than a routine formality. The comments about past performance seldom changed and the rating numbers never varied. Sometimes it seemed like my supervisor just copied last year's review and changed the dates. Not to excuse any supervisor for doing a poor performance review, but the job of running a company, shift, division, bureau, or department can leave little time for the supervisor to compile an accurate and comprehensive review of the previous year's activities.

In the typical performance review, the employee waits for the supervisor to provide feedback. The supervisor may not want or expect the employee to respond or offer additional information. It is your performance review, and you have the right and obligation to make sure that what is down in black and white reflects your performance accurately. You can do several things to help your supervisor recognize your performance and make your annual performance review meaningful.

Gather and review your records for the past year. Check your calendar and emails for activities and accomplishments, some of which your supervisor may not know about. If you have completed an activity or project, bring it up during your performance review so your efforts and accomplishments are recognized.

Have a record of commendations and awards. Did you receive any commendations? Did your company, bureau, etc. receive any letters of thanks from citizens? Are you a member of a faith-based or civic organization such as the Knights of Columbus, Boy Scouts, Rotary, Kiwanis, etc.? If so, mention your contributions to the community in those organizations. Your employment on the fire department will be well known to the members of those organizations. Contributions and efforts you make off-duty reflect positively on you as an individual and build relationships with community leaders. Community activities also highlight your leadership abilities and your ability to work with others.

Highlight your strengths. Your supervisor may choose to highlight your weaknesses, so take the initiative and mention your strengths. Did your work during the past year compliment your department's goals and objectives? Do you have creative ideas? Did you come up with a way to improve a procedure or practice? Are you good with dealing with difficult people? Are you able to coach or mentor others? Are you detail-oriented? Did you complete any special projects? Do you work safely at all times? Did you overcome any notable obstacles in accomplishing your job responsibilities during the last review period, especially obstacles encountered in attempting to reach personal or department goals? Take an honest look at what strengths you have and how they benefit your department and help your organization achieve its mission and reach its goals.

Identify areas for personal improvement. Your supervisor may mention a weak area during the review. Be prepared for this by doing a self-evaluation to see where you need to improve. Start by comparing your own performance against your job description. If you encountered any obstacles in doing your job, mention those and your plans for overcoming those obstacles. Your supervisor will also review any disciplinary action you may have received during the review period. You should use any disciplinary action as a learning experience and review the corrective action you have taken to prevent future occurrences. If you have any questions about job performance expectations ask your supervisor for clarification and advice. Stating where you need improvement will show your supervisor that you have the ability to evaluate your own performance objectively.

Set personal goals. Employers look for talent within their own organizations. I tell all of my recruits at rookie school graduation that their fire service education has just started. Set goals for professional development and to prepare you for advancement. Do you like EMS? Then set a goal for becoming a paramedic or achieving a specialized EMS certification. Does Hazmat interest you? Then become a certified Hazmat Technician. Do you have a degree? If not, enroll in a college degree program. Already have a Bachelor's degree? There are many Master's level degree programs available. Want to challenge yourself and become a transformational leader? Visit and see if you qualify for the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program. Define your goals and write them down. You should have both short-term (6 months to a year) and long-term goals. Develop realistic action plans for achieving your goals.

Ask questions. The performance review conference is a conversation, not a lecture. If you have any questions about your duties and responsibilities, your performance, the department's goals, your supervisor's expectations, etc., now is the time to ask them. Do not get caught a year later not meeting expectations because "you didn't understand." If the only time you ever receive feedback from you supervisor is during your performance review, ask your supervisor to provide regular feedback on your performance.

Go for the brass ring. Do you want to advance through the ranks of your department? If so, make it known to your supervisor. Having a goal of making lieutenant, battalion chief or fire chief shows your desire to make a career in the department. By making your desire known, you open up the possibility of receiving coaching and mentoring from experienced personnel.

A good performance review is an excellent tool that opens lines of communication between supervisor and subordinate, provides a snapshot of an employee's performance, and refocuses the employee on his or her career path. Ideally, one should keep up with one's performance throughout the year. Keep a notebook or file folder handy, and when something of note happens that you think should be reflected in your performance review, drop it in the notebook or folder. Review this information at least two weeks before your scheduled performance review and make written notes of what you want to discuss with your supervisor during the face-to-face meeting. Your supervisor will be impressed by your organization and foresight and you will have made the most of this opportunity to emphasize your knowledge, skills, and abilities.