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Performance appraisals in reverse.

"...although a good performance appraisal [system] does not make a good company, a bad system can be crippling...."(1)

A leader accomplishes work through other people. Except in very small police agencies where leaders also perform enforcement duties, subordinates, not leaders, accomplish the primary purpose of law enforcement. At a minimum, these subordinates need three things: An understanding of their job assignments; the training necessary to do their jobs; and regular appraisals of their work to reinforce satisfactory performance and correct substandard performance. Providing these critical elements forms the essence of the supervisor's job(2) and can be accomplished through effective performance appraisals.

Performance evaluations provide critical feedback for both supervisors and subordinates. This article discusses the nature of traditional performance evaluation and then describes the relatively new idea of reverse evaluations, which allow subordinates to rate supervisors.


The performance evaluation process provides supervisors with the tools to evaluate subordinate performance on a formal, periodic basis and to create a mutual understanding of individual needs, work objectives, and standards of acceptable performance. Evaluations allow supervisors to give feedback on how well subordinates meet expectations and to offer specific recommendations on what subordinates can do to improve performance.

Likewise, subordinates can suggest ways for supervisors to improve their performance and help develop their potential. Further, performance evaluations serve important administrative functions, such as identifying employee training needs and providing input on administrative decisions regarding promotions, reassignments, disciplinary actions, and terminations.(3)

In addition to presenting information to the subordinate, the appraiser tries to learn during performance appraisal interviews what is happening in the workplace and how the subordinate is reacting to it.(4) Good listening skills and diplomatic but probative questions are essential tools for the supervisor in this area.

However, when the employee being evaluated also is a supervisor (such as a sergeant in a police department), even more information is needed. Superior performance by supervisory personnel is the key to accomplishing departmental goals. Most police executives, however, have only vague perceptions of their supervisors' performance, particularly in terms of their ability to develop and supervise subordinates. Using reverse appraisals can offer some assistance.


Managerial performance appraisals present special challenges because management involves an inherently complex and varied set of activities. These activities include facilitating a productive work environment and developing subordinates to their full potential. To determine the effectiveness of each supervisor in these capacities, the most knowledgeable sources of information are obviously those being supervised - the subordinates themselves.

People often do a good job of showing their best qualities to their superiors. Consequently, executives see managers and supervisors differently than subordinates do.(5) To gain a legitimate and comprehensive understanding of the performance of supervisors, executives need to gain the perspective of the people they supervise.

In 1988, a private corporation instituted a reverse appraisal process with the stated purposes of giving the employees a vote in the workplace, improving managers' supervisory skills, and improving the efficiency of the organization.(6) As with many premises that apply to private industry, these goals also apply directly to law enforcement. The idea is to alert executives to potential problems with supervisors' performance.

In much the same manner as traditional performance appraisals, reverse appraisals furnish the executive with insights that will aid in the development of managers and supervisors. Identifying deficiencies in supervisory skills in a timely manner allows for timely corrective action. Not only is the subordinate's lot improved, but the supervisor's potential also is enhanced.


The reverse appraisal process is not complex. Departments first need to create a form for subordinates to complete to evaluate their supervisors. Then, a system must be established for collecting the forms from subordinates, delivering them to the appropriate executives, and using them for supervisors' evaluations. The system must maintain the anonymity of the rater and the confidentiality of the information collected. The Union Gap, Washington, Police Department uses the following process.

Reverse Appraisal Form

The department uses a 20-question form that addresses specific issues of a nontechnical nature. The intentionally subjective questions are designed to discern how the subordinate perceives the supervisor. The questionnaire places special emphasis on how well the supervisor meets the subordinate's needs. Subordinates provide numerical responses to each question (1=unsatisfactory through 5=excellent).

The questions allow the department to address its own unique supervisory concerns. Other departments might have different concerns and should design their questionnaires accordingly.

Instructions for completing the form direct employees not to put any identifying marks on it so that the information can remain confidential. Employees are asked to be honest in evaluating their supervisor's performance and are assured that the chief will not tolerate retaliation for a poor evaluation. Employees are reminded that the purpose of obtaining their views is to help improve the level of supervision they receive.


Once the form has been designed, the process is very straightforward. Everyone involved must follow each step carefully to ensure the confidentiality of the information provided and the anonymity of the employee. The process involves three categories of employees - subordinates, supervisors, and executives.

Step 1: The supervisor notifies subordinates of the date and time of their appraisal interviews and provides them with reverse appraisal forms at least 2 days prior to the scheduled interview.

Step 2: Each subordinate completes the form and seals it in an envelope marked confidential and addressed to the executive who will use the information. Forms must be typed and unsigned. The subordinate initials across the seal and places a piece of cellophane tape over the initials.

Step 3: At the beginning of the subordinate's appraisal interview, the supervisor collects the sealed envelope. Supervisors must ensure that all of their subordinates turn in the reverse appraisal form. If, for some reason, a subordinate chooses not to rate a supervisor, feasibly a blank form could be submitted, but this has never occurred in Union Gap.

Step 4: The supervisor delivers the sealed envelopes to the executive at least 10 days prior to the supervisor's performance appraisal interview. The executive ensures that all envelopes are still sealed and initialed.

Step 5: The executive removes the completed forms and disposes of the envelopes.

Step 6: The executive reviews the information contained in the reverse appraisal forms and factors that information into the supervisor's performance appraisal and performance improvement plan. The reverse appraisal forms may be kept as part of the supervisor's permanent record or discarded, according to the agency's prerogative.

Carefully following the steps in the process ensures that employees feel secure in honestly assessing their supervisors' performance. Executives receive valuable information not otherwise available to them that can be used to help improve the quality of supervision, just as supervisors seek to improve the level of their subordinates' performance.

This process does not allow for appraisal of the head of the agency by managers and supervisors. However, a similar concept can be devised to enable executives to receive such feedback.


The reverse appraisal process presents the possibility of disgruntled subordinates' giving vengeful appraisals. For this reason, executives should be careful not to assign too much weight to one or two poor appraisals. However, when several subordinates point out similar concerns, it should cue the executive to take corrective measures. Performance improvement plans for supervisors allow executives to gauge improvement and to provide a benchmark for measuring the need for remedial or even disciplinary action.

If a police department elects to use a reverse appraisal process, the staff should be involved in its development. Executives will need to address some initial concerns. Employees might fear that their input could result in adverse personnel actions against an immediate supervisor. This problem could be particularly difficult in a small agency where relationships, even between supervisors and subordinates, tend to be more personal. Employees also might fear that their feedback will jeopardize a coworker's salary increase or promotion. And, of course, there is almost certain to be fear that vengeful coworkers will abuse the system.(7)

Although each concern has some valid basis and needs to be addressed seriously, none should pose insurmountable obstacles to implementing a reverse appraisal process. In fact, similar concerns arose in the early stages of implementing standard performance appraisal programs years ago. However, by modeling successful programs used in private industry and in law enforcement, departments can avoid some of the pitfalls and alleviate many employee concerns.


Law enforcement executives must provide for and ensure the effective performance of their officers. This duty inherently involves making sure that supervisors also function effectively. Performance appraisals and reverse appraisals provide valuable tools for fulfilling those responsibilities.

Using reverse performance evaluations does not guarantee a better police agency. Only a performance evaluation system that has been tailored to meet the goals and objectives unique to the department will help to improve the operation.

Appraisers at all levels must remember that performance appraisals are meant primarily for development and growth, not for censure. By identifying their strengths and weaknesses, appraisals can help employees develop to their full potential. In turn, better employees make for better police departments.

However, it is not sufficient to appraise only from the top down. If executives want to gain the most comprehensive picture of a supervisor's performance, the best information comes from those being supervised. Reverse appraisals provide a mechanism for acquiring that information confidentially.

Police executives must develop reverse appraisal processes with care in order to address employee concerns successfully. However, well-designed processes yield significant benefits in terms of giving employees a vote in the workplace, improving supervisors' skills, and perhaps most important, improving agency efficiency.


1 Richard Girard, "Is There a Need for Performance Appraisals?" Personnel Journal, August 1988, 8-9.

2 Jeffrey R. Cameron, "Performance Evaluations Reevaluated." Police Chief, February 1989, 53-56.

3 Ibid.

4 William S. Swan, How to Do a Superior Performance Appraisal: A Guide for Managers and Professionals (New York: Wiley, 1991).

5 Joyce E. Santora, "Rating the Boss at Chrysler," Personnel Journal, May 1992, 38+.

6 Ibid.

7 Gloria E. Bader and Audrey E. Bloom, "How to Do Peer Review." Training & Development, June 1992, 62.

RELATED ARTICLE: Supervisor Evaluation Form

The form used by the Union Gap Police Department contains the following sample questions. Space is provided at the end of the form for optional comments. Employees give numerical ratings of their supervisors on each question (Scale: Excellent=5; Above Standard=4; Satisfactory=3; Needs Improvement=2; Unsatisfactory=1).

1. Is your supervisor available to you for questions/assistance as much as possible?

2. Is your supervisor in the field during peak hours as much as possible?

3. Does your supervisor follow officer safety procedures and consider personal safety as well as that of others?

4. Does your supervisor practice safe driving when responding to calls?

5. Is your supervisor willing to assist you with your work or to do some of your work when you are backlogged?

6. Does your supervisor maintain composure and reliability in emergencies?

7. Is your supervisor able to make decisions to solve problems that are within his/her authority?

8. Does your supervisor use courtesy and tact when contacting the public?

9. Does your supervisor try to cooperate and to assist you in your work?

10. Is your supervisor able to control his/her temper and emotions under stress?

11. Does your supervisor take conflict personally?

12. Is your supervisor trying to do the best job possible?

13. Is your supervisor willing to accept/ assume responsibilities?

14. Does your supervisor make an effort to get to know your strengths and weaknesses?

15. Are your supervisor's evaluations fair and objective with the good of the department in mind?

16. Does your supervisor effectively organize and direct your work?

17. Is your supervisor effective in helping to develop good employees?

18. How well does your supervisor analyze problems at work and find solutions to solve them?

19. Does your supervisor take fair and firm action in personnel problems or are they avoided?

20. How much confidence do you have in your supervisor?
COPYRIGHT 1995 Federal Bureau of Investigation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:police agencies
Author:Roberts, Lane J.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Sep 1, 1995
Previous Article:Prevention: a new approach to domestic violence.
Next Article:Psychological Services for Law Enforcement.

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