In Los Angeles, applicants for civilian (non-sworn) jobs are normally required to pass four separate tests: an application review, a civil service examination, a selection interview, and the working test—probation. It’s important to note that these four tests are not all designed to serve the same purpose.
The first three tests in the City’s employee selection process are designed to predict job performance. But the last test, Probation, is designed not to predict, but to measure job performance. Unfortunately, City management has not yet recognized that distinction.
The first two tests are designed and administered by the Personnel Department. They are conducted according to a well-established routine. The third test—the selection interview—is administered by the operating departments. Under Mayor Bradley, the Personnel Department advised, trained and guided departments in the use of this test. And it’s my understanding that most City departments still use this test very effectively to select the candidate best qualified for the position being filled.
The fourth test, Probation, is also administered by the operating departments. But no department uses this test effectively to measure the job performance of probationary employees. And that failure keeps civil service in Los Angeles “stuck on stupid.”
In fairness, it must be reported that, during the Bradley Administration, an effort was made to upgrade the use of probation. Appointing authorities were directed to install a performance appraisal system that complies with relevant regulations and that is clearly job-related. They were directed to use that appraisal system—both for probationary ratings and for annual appraisals.
As part of the mayor’s effort, The Supervisor’s Guide To Performance Appraisal was published by the City’s Personnel Department. It was endorsed by the City Council and sent to the departments for review and—ultimately—for implementation.
If the Guide had been installed in all City departments, probation would now be used as a job-specific working test. Had that happened, employee morale and productivity may well be higher than it is, and the cost of City government would probably be lower.
But Tom Bradley left the Mayor’s office before his effort to improve Human Resource Management came to fruition. Sadly, the new Mayor, Richard J. Riordan, buried the Guide and subjected the City’s civil service system to a radical make-over. And he did this against the law! Whatever his intentions, Riordan robbed the people of Los Angeles.