Proper Performance Evaluations: You Owe It To Your Personnel

Some departments call them job ratings; others may refer to them as “annual evals.” Regardless of the local nomenclature, properly evaluating the performance of an employee is not easy. Even when done correctly, it is a time-consuming and sometimes awkward task. This prompts many departments to degrade the evaluations process into a ticket-punching, hoop-jumping, obligatory paperwork exercise that is nothing short of meaningless. By bastardizing this very legitimate process, these departments rob themselves of a tremendous opportunity to help develop their people.

Personnel may think their performance is being evaluated for these four reasons:

1. To lay the groundwork so an employee can be fired.

2. To get a merit pay increase. Personnel may well get a step increase in pay for satisfactory performance. However, pencil whipping a performance form each year in order to help out a brother or sister get some extra money does not bring about the desired outcome.

3. To get some extra points added to an overall promotional examination score. If your department still practices the aforementioned, you are asking for trouble. This creates a situation where firefighters want to work for the more liberal officers who know how to play the “flower it up” game. Why do you think assessment centers use anywhere from three to five different evaluators? It is to eliminate this kind of bias that can be injected by a single evaluator process.

4. To create busy work. It may very well seem like busy work if nothing is ever done with the evaluations to indicate that they serve any legitimate purpose. Regardless of what happens with the paperwork, don’t miss the opportunity to sit down with your personnel to advise them of how they are doing.

Why Evaluate Personnel?

The following are my top six legitimate reasons for evaluating personnel

1. So employees will know how they are doing.

2. To shore up areas of weakness. Everyone has weaknesses or blind spots. Providing constructive, diplomatic remedies to better the employee is a vital component within the job of the supervisor. If left unchecked, these deficiencies will become magnified, cause hard feelings within the work group and possibly disenfranchise the worker who has yet to receive word from his or her boss that a problem even exists.

3. To keep competencies honed. Don’t assume that because an employee is proficient in an area that he or she will always be proficient. New equipment or technologies, and em-ployee apathy or overconfidence all must keep the supervisor constantly alert as to the skill levels of his or her people.

4. To increase employee productivity and satisfaction. Despite what some would lead us to believe, productive workforces are the most satisfied workforces. When employees know that they are making an impact in their community, and for their organization, they will go above and beyond the call of duty to have an even greater impact. While it is true that lackadaisical workforces don’t have to do as much work, they are also the most miserable personally and professionally.

5. To prepare personnel for promotions. The objective is not to give an employee a high rating to beat the other candidates with bonus points. The objective is to develop the individual so that he or she can assume the role of the rank they are seeking without a learning curve once they find themselves in the new position. Proper performance evaluations help pave the way for employee success as they move up within the organization.

6. To enhance or create dialogue. Supervisors must have a relationship and level of trust and with their crewmembers that allows them to sit down and work out problems. This can be very awkward, particularly for those with more introverted personalities. However, it is a skill that can be mastered through practice and development. Keeping lines of communication open may sound cliche, but it is a key component to problem solving.

Rater Ruts To Avoid

Now that you’re convinced of the need to properly evaluate your personnel, let’s examine some common errors made during the evaluation.

  • Halo Effect. As the name implies, you see aspects of sainthood exhibited by an employee in one or more areas. However, the employee has many other areas that require growth and development. This Halo Effect causes the supervisor to be blinded by the light and the subordinate scores high in many other areas without justification.

  • “My Buddy” Syndrome. Particularly at the company level, crewmembers often socialize on their off days or perhaps become partners in a side business. While this camaraderie is commendable, it can be a detriment if the supervisor cannot give an honest assessment of a subordinate’s performance. By injudiciously overrating a buddy, you create a clique that disenfranchises the other members of your unit and erodes any credibility that you may have worked to attain.

  • Central Tendency. This is the lazy person’s job-rating system. Like the AT&T long distance commercial, you simply dial right down the center. On a scale from 1 to 5 your personnel rate straight 3s in every category! This way, you don’t have to provide any documentation, the chief is off your back because he or she needs this assignment completed as quickly as possible, it can be performed from the comfort of any recliner, and it takes no effort and provides no feedback. However, it is more of an indictment upon you, the company officer, than it is a reflection of how your people are actually performing.

  • Comparing Employees. Employees should be evaluated independently by the observed behaviors they exhibit in a number of different categories that reflect the functions they are required to perform. Each individual brings differing knowledge, skills and ability sets (KSAs). How they perform utilizing their KSAs is how they should be scored. Employees should not be compared one to another. Have you ever heard this one? “I wish you were more like Firefighter X.” You should not compare your children; likewise, you should not compare your people. By doing so, you inject your own personal values and biases, which in this case, do not reflect proper department values.


If you think about it, the people in any organization are the only resource that can actually appreciate in value. Fire trucks and stations get beat up from the moment they are placed in service, but the people can actually get better with time. However, they will only get better if they are given the feedback they need to excel and contribute.

Since you are going to have to fill out the evaluation form anyway, you might as well do it right. Give your people a proper performance evaluation; you owe it to them.

Greg Neely is the deputy chief of the Broken Arrow, OK, Fire Department. He has served as a field instructor and program coordinator for Oklahoma State University/Fire Service Training and as an adjunct instructor for the National Fire Academy. Neely has a master’s degree in fire and emergency management from OSU and is a National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program alumnus. He also provides consulting, assessment center training and promotional assessments and officer development. You may contact Neely to obtain a complimentary download of the Broken Arrow Fire Department Performance Evaluation Program. He can be reached at his website