Performance and Development Reviews (PDRs), aka ‘appraisals’, are a controversial subject in policing. They’re often despised by officers and supervisors alike. However, this is largely down to poor application or how individual forces overcomplicate the concepts, by burdening officers with confusing IT systems and mandating complex, bureaucratic forms. Despite their bad rap, PDRs are an essential tool for police leaders and supervisors to manage and support officers and police staff under their command. This blog will set the record straight, while showing how to do it right!
Before we dive into the main content, you might want to listen to my recently published podcast on the subject. Here I dive into more detail, while also covering subjects not outlined here, such as the Stephen Covey inspired ‘win-win’ performance agreements.
PDRs: What’s the Point?
“A lot of people never use their initiative because no one told them to.” – Banksy
Many officers dread the annual appraisal process, finding it all a bit like sucking on lemons. However, it need not be like that!
So, what’s the point of PDRs? Why bother doing them? Going back to basics will help get to the essence of what it’s all about: Reviewing performance and considering the development of your team. If you don’t understand why managing performance and developing your teams (the number one recommendation of the Leadership Review) is important, then frankly you’re not yet ready for promotion.
PDRs are an opportunity to build and maintain trust and confidence with team members. A chance to communicate and inform. A time to inspire and support through providing constructive feedback, or deliver praise and recognition (powerful motivators). In short, to let individuals know ‘how they are doing’. It’s a two-way reassurance opportunity, given you’ll be role-modelling your leadership expectations. Meaningful 1-to-1 time with a supportive, caring, emotionally aware supervisor allows individuals to articulate in confidence things that may be affecting their performance, which may not have been picked up on. Some officers will never experience PDRs in this way.
You might have also noticed the importance of PDRs being highlighted in this week’s big news about the Met Police being the latest of six forces now placed under ‘special’ measures. One reason the HMIC cited, as reported below by Matthew Thompson on Twitter, is the lack of personal development and appraisal for officers. So you could say performance appraisals are a very special measure for police leaders to conduct!
The problems and poor reputation of the phrase ‘performance development review’ in policing comes almost entirely from how forces’ HR departments implement them and the associated bureaucratic machinery along the way. However, managing performance and developing others are core elements of both the Sergeant’s role and the Inspector’s role.
The real importance of PDRs is the opportunity that is provided for meaningful 1-to-1 conversations with your team, while also staying ‘sighted’ on individual and team development issues. The elephant in the room is that for many officers, such quality conversations and opportunities don’t happen often enough. Prior planning and preparation are frequently overlooked. Alternatively, the ‘annualised PDR process’ which most forces implement (and often mandate) can be a sticking plaster for poor police leadership issues.
Any supervisor worth their salt should be taking the initiative to have a regular discussion with their team members. Why? Because they’re worth it. 1-to-1 time is a unique opportunity to build relationships, recognise and praise good work and to develop others. Done right, individuals will feel listened to, supported and more aware and aligned to how their contributions support the force aims and objectives.
As a supervisor you might just get some insight and an understanding of their hopes, dreams, and aspirations too. For example, to become Dog Handlers, Senior Investigating Officers, or to go for promotion. You’ll then be better placed in supporting them to reach their goals. Whether facilitated by the ‘talent management tool’ in Devon and Cornwall Police, or the ‘My Career’ scheme in Police Scotland, the important thing is meaningful communication between leaders and their team members.
‘My Career’: A PDR Case Study in Police Scotland
“Conversations about performance should be rooted in our everyday activities. Regardless of any personal aspirations, everyone should know how their contributions help drive our priorities and keep the people and communities of Scotland safe.” – Police Scotland ‘My Career’ guidance
I’m becoming a bit of an anorak concerning Police Scotland’s promotion and assessment tools as I become more familiar with them; to the extent that earlier this year I was commissioned to provide and present an explainer course to assist with interpreting the competencies and values in the bespoke Scottish CVF. As part of this, I made the bespoke Scottish Police CVF illustration above.
I was inspired to write this blog having looked at the ‘My Career’ PDR scheme in Police Scotland on receipt of a query from a Police Scotland officer about it. ‘My Career’ is a CVF-aligned set of guidance, processes and systems on which officers and staff must submit reflective logs aligned to the CVF competencies. Supervisors must then complete reviews of these for their team members. I provide the link above should you want to browse through it.
You might wish your force were to implement this or be grateful it doesn’t! There are lots of similarities in how forces generally approach PDR and implementing such schemes, but here’s my views on some key pros and cons of this case study:
- Pro: Like all such schemes, it encourages a discussion between supervisors and their team members. Fundamental to effective policing to facilitate supportive, intrusive supervision.
- Pro: The whole scheme is overtly aligned to the CVF. That means when individuals compile their behavioural evidence for review, their examples provide a good head start to building evidence for future CVF-aligned job applications or interviews.
- Pro: Useful guidance is provided on how to compile such evidence; similar in some ways to how I advise officers to compile evidence to support successful promotion applications! For example, the importance of saying ‘I’ (not ‘we’) and using a structure.
- Pro: It accommodates the complete gamut of career aspirations, from those who are happy where they are in the organisation, to those who might want to change role and/or seek promotion via the leadership ‘development pathway’.
- Con: Like most forces’ PDR approaches, it’s overly bureaucratic and lengthy. Such bureaucracy is a big turn-off for busy practical cops and supervisors alike. It also hides the gems it does contain, which is a shame. Operational supervisors generally don’t have time to read a 30+ page report on how to talk with their team.
- Con: The mandate for at least 6 pieces of ‘reflective practice’ per individual (one aligned to each CVF competency) throughout the year, and the requirement for supervisors to promptly assess each one, risks making the entire PDR process a chore to prioritise, given other competing priorities facing many operational supervisors. In turn, stealing away any potential enjoyment in developing others. Let’s say each officer submits 2 reflective examples/pieces of evidence per competency, that’s 12 per person. A Sergeant may typically be responsible for supervising 6 officers. So that means a whopping 72 pieces of reflective practice for reviewing sporadically during the year. This scheme appears to have been devised independently from knowledge of other operational leadership duties, such as workload reviews, oversight of wellbeing, leading investigations, and so on.
- Con: It’s overly complex. Any process requiring a complex process map (or three!) is too convoluted. Linked to the bureaucracy point, there’s even a ‘dispute resolution’ process built in, should individuals dispute their supervisor’s assessment of any evidence. So this creates the potential for additional disputes and negative work throughout the year, creating more paperwork, and taking time away from supervisors having 1-to-1 discussions with their teams! It is not clear whether Police Scotland supervisors have received any CVF assessment training to interpret evidence, especially examples submitted to support progression via leadership pathways. If that’s the case, then there may well be disputes in the pipeline.
So, What Does Good Look Like?
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” – Martin Luther King
I have many discussions with aspiring promotion candidates around how they will approach their primary role function as new leaders (driving and managing performance). I’m aware that, as with the postcode lottery of promotion selection processes, there’s a variety of ways in which acting, temporary, and substantive supervisors currently fulfil this responsibility. This includes contemporaneous notes, recording voice files “on the hoof” to memorise good work after attending incidents, or incorporating PDR issues within workload review meetings, “just to keep on top of things”.
Whilst it may be mandated in policy that ‘dedicated time should be set aside’, force guidance is often cited as a distraction, with the ‘ways and means act’ often being implemented by savvy operational supervisors to just make things work. Looking back on my own experiences, I created a simple ‘aid memoir’ to support meaningful PDR discussions. Since then, I’ve refined this and with other guidance to help promotion candidates in developing skills, filling knowledge gaps and raising awareness to convert leadership aspiration into promotion success. There are some key points to follow, which you peruse and consider as part of your own leadership responsibilities.
I outline a simple 3-step approach below:
1. Plan Your Logistics: When, How Long, & Where?
When should discussions happen? In an ideal world (ha!), you should be setting aside regular catchups with each team member. This means connecting with individuals around 30 mins per month, to discuss performance, developmental or wellbeing issues. Everyone can make excuses (and many do) about why this is beyond the realms of possibility, but frankly, if you’re not doing that at least, you’re abrogating your leadership responsibilities. Then each quarter or every six months or so, you may want to focus on performance and development.
An annual review can be helpful to formalise things, in terms of reviewing how the past year went and setting objectives (be they performance and/or developmental) for the year ahead. This annual review bit is what forces’ HR departments focus on with the various mandated PDR schemes. But if you haven’t done the work in between, such reviews may well prove painful and pointless! Certainly, no individual should have any ‘surprises’ in terms of feedback when it comes to PDR time.
It is well known that police officers rarely stay in the same job for long periods; you and/or members of your team may well have moved on in the intervening year. Therefore, make use of the time you have with your teams while you have it, with more regular check-ins over the course of the year.
Where to do it? There’s no simple answer, but generally a place where you can give your full, personal attention and get away from the daily noise. This might mean off-site, at a canteen (if you’re lucky to still have one!), or a quiet office. What it certainly means is no phones to distract attention.
I personally advocate for meeting in-person. ‘Virtual’ meetings by their very nature are impersonal, and is a poor second best to face-to-face communication. In-person also demonstrates you’ve made the effort to value the other person, which in turn helps facilitate a more open conversation. I’m aware lots of PDRs occur virtually. In some large geographical forces, it may be the only option, but to me it will always be second best.
2. Cover the PPF!
No, not the Policing Professional Framework (the precursor to the CVF)! This PPF:
- PAST: What has gone well or could be better? Any notable achievements?
- PRESENT: A chance to set, communicate and reinforce standards and to review and consider competence. Not just the CVF competencies, but individual competence in their role.
- FUTURE: What are their ambitions?
When talking about performance, it’s helpful to recognise that there are generally four reasons for performance failure, as I discuss in my eGuide super-briefings on promotion and leadership:
- Knowledge or Skills: The person does not know how or does not have the ability to perform the process correctly.
- Culture or Motivation: The person knows how to perform but does so incorrectly or has poor attitude.
- Process: The problem is not with the individual but caused by improper procedures or working conditions.
- Resources: There’s a lack of people, money, equipment, technology, or other resources to perform the necessary tasks.
The PDR appraisal process is a golden opportunity to consider these. Managing performance is a essential year-round expectation of any good police leader. Especially when you’re charged with managing finite resources at the higher ranks of Inspector and Chief Inspector! My eGuides also provide a template CPD plan and gap assessment for addressing individual skills gaps and development needs.
3. Ask questions (and listen lots!)
Here’s 12 suggestions for prompts and questions to help facilitate and plan for a meaningful PDR with your staff. Notice how most are open questions, encouraging and allowing the individual to discuss what’s important to them. You’ll see there’s several ways of asking about the past, present and future mentioned above. You may not have time for them all, but they provide food for thought; so choose which ones appeal to you, or mix and match as it suits:
- What specific issues or concerns would you like to raise during your appraisal?
- How do you view your performance over the last year, in terms of the activities and behaviours in your role profile?
- Please comment on the achievement of your objectives.
- What have your positive achievements been of over the last year?
- Are there specific development needs you have identified? If so, what are they?
- What do you consider to be your main strengths?
- What objectives would you like to work towards, which reflect our current aims and priorities?
- Which personal objectives would you like to agree for the next year?
- What training needs have you identified?
- Are there any ways that you would like to progress in the organisation?
- What are your ambitions and what support do you need along the way?
- How can I help you to do your job better?
Whether your force policy/guidance/process is ‘user friendly’ or otherwise, these questions will support and facilitate good PDR discussions. They can also aid ongoing supervisory conversations, helping officers achieve performance requirements in their role, while more widely realising their potential.
Some Final Thoughts…
You might also find my book review helpful on this matter, e.g. ‘The Rules of Management’, a part of my dedicated YouTube ‘All Leaders Read’ series…
Finally, and importantly for your preparation to promotion, in doing all the above you will yourself be living and breathing the various competencies and values (behaviours) of the CVF. This process assists with making the competency framework more familiar, and generally helps prepare you for a leadership role. You will be able to talk authentically with any interview panel for example about:
- Taking ownership of the development and wellbeing of your teams
- Being emotionally aware, by making time to understand the needs, hopes and aspirations of others
- Analysing critically the needs of your team, any performance gaps, and how you can bridge those with relevant training and other development
By making time and giving part of yourself to others, you’ll be doing the right thing, whilst also demonstrating the CVF values, such as integrity and public service. This approach is all part of having a ‘servant leadership’ style, which I shall cover in an upcoming blog soon.
Kind Regards, Steve
Want to go further? Hit the ground running with your promotion preparation. Get your personal digital promotion toolkit, attend or download my Police Promotion Masterclass, or contact me to arrange personal coaching support. If you first want to explore completely free content, I have a collection of videos, eGuides, a podcast, plus free blog content both here and via my Police Hour guest articles.