Making Performance Management Work in the Sierra Leone Police
In sixteen (16) training sessions so far, officers and leaders in the Sierra Leone Police have undergone performance management training to prepare the ground for the successful implementation of the SLP New Performance Management Program.
But training is just a tiny part of the pie. How do we ensure that performance appraisal works in the SLP?
The Police leadership recognises that performance appraisals in the past were directly and disproportionately linked to promotions and that the process did not have the necessary data to provide real data about officers performance or career growth. The process was a mere evaluation, excluding the planning and development function, highly impersonal, bureaucratic, top down, secretive and centralized, excluding the participation of the officer being assessed. In that situation, therefore, recruitment was for positions and not careers. There was a lack of career visibility. Appointments were knee jerk, based on urgent operational needs and there could have been a low level of deserved promotion.
This situation would likely have led to anxiety and frustration amongst high potential officers, sub optimal resource allocation, where the SLP’s ability to place the best people in the best opportunities is compromised. There was the very real risk of losing key staff to new entrants in the economy eg London Mining, African Minerals, Telecoms Companies etc. Invariably, individual performance is affected by a low sense of belonging.
The Performance Management Vision
In introducing the new SLP Performance Management System, the vision of force is to demonstrate the linkage between past performance and future planning and individual officer and SL organisational goals with a view to achieving a people and stakeholder focussed organisation.
Officers in the Eastern, North Western and North Eastern Regions identified six main obstacle to achieving this vision: viz
- Political Interference
- Interference from Senior Officers
- Tribalism, Nepotism, Favoritism, Personal aggrandisement, Malice and Dishonesty
- Bribery and Corruption
- Inferiority Complex on the part of some less educated commanders
- Lack of faith in top management commitment to the process
Performance appraisals when done right can be a motivational and meaningful experiences that build performance and improve morale.
In order for the system to work, police managers must remember the performance appraisal is about the future, not the past. Too often the focus of the appraisal is on the rating and the rating’s justification. Rating a person’s performance is looking at what they have done over the past performance period. Try shifting the focus from what has happened in the past to what will happen in the future. The rating then simply establishes a starting point relative to achieving performance objectives in the future.
During the appraisal interview, keep three percentages in mind
- 15% - Spend about 15% of the interview rating the officers’ past performance
- 25% - Spend about 25% of the interview establishing performance goals for the officer for the future
- 60% - Spend about 60% of the time developing a plan of action with the officer to achieve the newly established goals
With this approach, the significance of the conversation is shifted to how police managers will work with their officers to improve performance. The focus is to the future.
Implementation – No suprises!
For this process to work, police managers must avoid rating surprises during the appraisal. When the officer comes to the appraisal session, they should already have a good idea of what their ratings will be. This requires continuous feedback during the performance appraisal period. Check the scores frequently. Give the officer ongoing feedback during the performance period to avoid surprises at the appraisal session.
Use interim reviews to maximize the success of the performance plan. Interim reviews go beyond day-to-day coaching. The interim review is not a formal performance appraisal where you will cover all aspects of performance. It is simply a 15 to 20 minute informal meeting with the officer. During this interim review, you review progress on goals set during the last appraisal session, surface performance issues as needed, and make necessary adjustments to the employee’s developmental plan. The interim review is a good reminder to the employee as to where they are relative to the issues and objectives established for this performance appraisal period.
Conduct interim appraisals on a quarterly basis. Without interim reviews, officers typically see the evaluation form once per year before it is filed away. If this is done, the officer cannot benefit from ongoing development. Therefore, if police managers are not relating to the criteria listed on the evaluation form during the performance period, officers will not understand their importance.
Using interim appraisals is a simple and effective method to make the evaluation criteria more meaningful and avoid rating surprises during the performance appraisal session.
Keep the ratings simple and meaningful for the officer. Below/Inadequate, Learning, Knowledgeable, Role Model. Emphasize that Below/Inadequate does not make the officer a bad officer. Simply that he does not yet have the skills s/he requires to do his/her job competently, and devote extra time to coaching and developing him/her.
Performance Management Skills
Communication skills are critical in the appraisal session itself. Police managers must learn to coach and how to give criticism in a positive manner. If this process is wrongly done, an evaluation session intended to motivate an officer can be very demoralizing. The pain of going to the dentist can last a few hours. The pain of a poorly done performance appraisal can last for months. Most of us have experienced a performance appraisal that we felt was somewhat unfair and we still remember how it felt.
In order for performance appraisals to be a motivational experience building people to higher levels of productivity, police managers recognize the performance appraisal as a developmental session - not a disciplinary session. Even in the worst performance cases, the evaluation session is not to be used to discipline the employee for poor performance in the past.
The performance appraisal is simply saying, “Here is where the performance is now. Up there is where we want it to be. Now, let’s work together to develop a plan to get performance from where it is to where we want it to be.”
Using these approaches, the performance appraisal system can work as a meaningful and motivational tool to develop officers within the police force.