“So, tonight, I call on Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”
– President Trump, State of the Union, January 29, 2018
It’s no secret that federal government has a troubling and long-standing reputation for low employee satisfaction, engagement and performance. There’s a perception that underperformers are tolerated, “safe” in government jobs. So, what’s changing? Why is the President’s statement causing a stir in public sector management?
Followed by the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) published in March, the State of the Union call to action reinforces a push to modernize the government and its workforce for the 21st century. The White House appears ready to discard outdated and restrictive systems in favor of performance management technologies and practices designed to improve “service to America through enhanced alignment and strategic management of the Federal workforce.”
Below is a look at some of the legacy obstacles, proposed changes and ways in which technology can help meet the demand for better government performance management.
Out with the Old
Unlike their counterparts in the private sector, federal government management has a strict set of rules governing performance management reviews. Federal agencies are required to perform annual reviews using a five-point rating system, unless they have approval to use an alternate system. They are also prohibited from ranking employees against one another to identify the top (or bottom) performers on a team.
There are many problems with this system. It does not support a more contemporary approach to reviews, which provides more feedback more frequently to employees. Standards for acceptable performance are often so broad that it’s challenging to flag laggards who are doing the minimum required; they are just as likely to get a step increase as higher-performing peers. And there are few mechanisms to reward top performers, squelching government employee ambition and creating the wrong culture to attract and retain top-notch talent.
Underneath it all are personnel and performance management systems that are rigid, antiquated and not interoperable. Today’s public sector performance management systems inflexibly map jobs to outdated processes and functions, wasting taxpayer money and contributing to an excessive administrative burden.
In with the New
Taking a long-term view of reform, the PMA includes workforce alignment as one critical component for success. It acknowledges, “To achieve a state where Federal agencies and managers can hire the best employees, remove the worst employees, and engage employees at all levels of the organization, the Government must put a framework in place that drives and encourages strategic human capital management.”
This is a big challenge for the government. A shift in direction that requires a new framework. A fresh start designed to give government the right and the responsibility to acquire and manage the right talent, performing effectively.
And the White House is wasting no time in leading the change. Taking one step closer to a “pay for performance” approach, its 2019 budget proposal freezes all civilian federal employees’ pay to stop indiscriminate across-the-board pay increases. A portion of the funds may be added to an interagency fund for cash bonuses and performance-based pay pilot programs.
Despite some of the initial controversy over such moves, these shifts could provide tremendous benefit to the government, its employees, and its future workforce. That is, if the right technology is used to achieve the underlying requirements of monitoring and managing performance.
How Performance Management Systems Can Help
Together with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and Office of Budget Management (OMB), government agencies are being asked to leverage data, analytics and technology tools to help advance the PMA agenda over the next two years. Among many other milestones, the group aims to:
- Ensure that managers are appropriately trained on performance management and are provided with support to address performance and conduct issues.
- Establish competency-based qualification requirements and certification standards for all HR professionals.
- Identify leading practices for use of incentives [e.g. awards; recruitment, relocation, retention (3Rs); employee efficiency; skills incentives and others] to reward employees and recruit and retain top talent.
- Complete at least 5 organizational assessments on low-performing work units.
Each of these milestones is an example component of a solid workforce performance management program. All organizations should track individual behaviors against a set of competencies required for the role as well as against organizational goals. And leaders should be able to analyze results by individuals, managers, teams and organizations.
The right performance management system will automate and support much of the data collection and analysis needed to improve individual and organizational performance. Once implemented with a robust competency model tailored for an agency, the performance management system will help agency leaders to:
- Track individual performance to see where employees are on track and where they’re falling off.
- Evaluate manager performance to determine whether and how a manager is effective.
- Identify areas for development for individuals, managers, teams and the organization.
- Make informed decisions that advance progress on closing skills gaps, keeping certifications up to date, and achieving desired pilot group outcomes.
Government performance management systems should support agency leaders in finding and rewarding top performers, identifying employees who are not meeting expectations and evaluating how well their workforce is becoming aligned with agency goals. With these insights – and some changes to performance management requirements – leaders can decisively act to shape their 21st-century workforce.
Interested in learning more about best practices and tools for government performance management? Please contact us for a consultation. Or download our whitepaper on Energizing Performance Through Competency Management.