Personnel Evaluations and Their Relevance

My experience as a city manager is that the same personnel forms have been used for years and sometimes personnel have not been evaluated for years. So the question is, how relevant are personnel evaluations? OR more appropriately, how can they be made more relevant?  How do your systems interface?

The answer starts with the City Council and the city manager/administrator. When was the last time the City Council and the manager had a strategic planning session? A truly effective evaluation system needs to start with the development of a strategic plan with the City Council. From those strategies, goal and plans for the departments can be developed.

It is incumbent upon the manager and staff must meet to translate those strategies into plans and goals for the respective department to achieve. Each department is then responsible and accountable to implement plans to achieve the goals.

Most often the personnel carrying out the direct task can bring the most insight into the plans and how to achieve them. Department heads should meet with the department employees to discuss the City Council strategies and together develop plans to meet those goals.

From this point, the annual or semi-annual evaluations of staff from the manager on down needs be directed toward the achievement of the City Council strategies. This means that the typical evaluation forms may not be applicable — more than likely, they will not.  A new form that uses a combination of ratings and narratives will be necessary to be created. And with it, an open and rigorous discussion with employees to JOINTLY create the new evaluation tool that is meaningful for both the supervisors and the employee — and this includes all employees in the organization.

The key here is to create a system whereby success is supported throughout the organization.  That success arrives through a system that trains all members in the new personnel system; that coaching and learning become a part of the organizational culture from the Council through to the lowest position on the organizational chart.

Of course, part of this equation includes the types of rewards and recognition available to staff members for achievement of these goals. While local governments are usually limited to the types of rewards that can be offered, there are ways to be creative to recognize employees for a job well done in assisting the City Council with achievement of their strategies and programs, and bringing effective services to the residents.

Improving the systemic approach by emphasizing employee involvement is just one significant change that needs to be considered.  The amount and type of training our supervisors receive is another (have you ever trained them on how to conduct this process effectively?)  Lastly, the spectrum of management response from the economic rewards system to disciplinary rewards/response is a wide spectrum to consider and USE.  All too many of our peers assume the job continuance is a  given right, still many others jump to give employees incentives to perform.  Recognition is still the most effective, appreciated and cost effective approach.   Most would agree that not enough of the public sector managers rigorously oversee the process down to the supervisory level to ensure that the day to day resource allocation is on target and refuse to accept the sorry and tired excuse “that is the way we have always done it.”

Insightful evaluation forms, interactive processes and effective training of key personnel in the art of “coaching” are keys to much better approach.  The Performance evaluation system is one of the four cornerstones your personnel system! The tried and true maxim that “to control everything is too expensive” should come to mind.

The CDJ can help you draft and re-craft your systems towards a goal oriented service delivery system.


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3 Responses to Personnel Evaluations and Their Relevance

  1. John Begala says:

    Good points throughout. One thing that cannot be emphasized enough: the importance of making evaluations a predictable part of the rhythm of an organization. If employees know that no matter what, there is an opportunity for an open, two-way discussion about performance at regular intervals (emplhasis on “regular intervals”), it helps channel energies and keeps small problems from becoming big ones. We do this twice annually, no exceptions…supervisors are evaluated in part on their having completed their reviews with employees in a timely and constructive manner.

    • Dr. Larry Keller says:


      Our replies are interesting, with mine looking at system variables and yours management ones. Charley and you both have an excellent grasp of how evaluations should be done. Your views turn them into organizational dialogues rather than exercises of authority. This perspective is much more likely to achieve objectives and energize the organization than the typical for the record evaluation

      Course evaluations are another example where more of a dialogue is useful. Student evaluations are only part of a course evaluation and need to be augmented with a debriefing from students of how they actually found the course. This is similar to employees stating how they find the organization and their superiors. These types of evaluations need to be carefully done but are much more valuable than a “fill out the forms” process.

      And within cities, unions may buy into such a process. But then I am an eternal optimist.

  2. Dr. Larry Keller says:

    Charley and All:

    Charley recommendations about evaluations starting with strategies articulated and accepted by Council is wise. Probably the greatest problem with Council-Manager governance is the inability of councils to exercise effectively their collegial authority. A system whereby the Council starts the evaluation process helps to promote and facilitate Council acting collegially on policy and accountability.

    I would recommend training for councils at the start of every new session, that is, after each election cycle. This needs to be done by a respected third party and emphasize the system roles that Council must play. These roles are certainly beyond party and ideology. Thus, they need to be facilitated by a system that holds not only the Council but the manager accountable. The training should be part of starting each new Council session with a day long strategic assessment of the city and its needs.

    Such training ought to be part of every Charter. I always recommend that a session start with a strategic assessment before electing officers. Otherwise, councils may have no training at all and worse, start with electing officers which can be highly political in the worse sense for starting a new session.

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