Workforce Wonk

By Alyah Khan

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Rating feds' performance: Changes are in the works

How can the government improve its method for evaluating employees so that those with better performance are rewarded appropriately?

Answering that question seems to be the first step in weighing whether the government should implement a federal pay-for-performance system, and it is also an issue I plan to explore in my next Federal Workforce column.

Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry stressed the importance of strengthening performance evaluations before even beginning discussions on federal salaries at a March 9 House hearing titled, “Are federal workers underpaid?”

Berry told lawmakers that he thinks performance evaluations should be based on aligning organizational mission and goals to individual performance, as well as managers and employees having regular conversations about whether they are on track to meet their goals.

Experts I’ve spoken with so far have largely agreed with Berry’s comments. They say that while performance management varies among agencies, the government as a whole must reform the way it measures employee performance because not all feds deserve an above average rating.

“We can’t treat all 2 million of our government employees the same,” said Jon Desenberg, senior policy director at the Performance Institute.

Desenberg suggested the government must place more emphasis on the role of supervisors to develop goals with their employees and follow through on those goals. He added that he thinks the Defense Department’s National Security Personnel System broke down because of poor supervisors.

Others said changes in the performance evaluation process should result in a focus on metrics, not labels, and will require leadership from OPM and the Office of Management and Budget.

What do you think needs to change about the way the government evaluates its employees?  Are there things that should stay the same? Do you think your agency does a good job when it comes to performance evaluations? If so, what does your agency do well?

Posted by Alyah Khan on March 15, 2011 at 8:30 AM

Reader comments

Thu, Mar 17, 2011 Erich Darr

First of all you need to select supervisors, who can write and are comfortable with writing. It's a critical element for a supervisor. Then you need to teach them how to do appraisals. That you can't fire CS employees is a copout. You need to document what's required of the employee. The employee also needs to understand what disciplinary actions may be imposed for a given violation. You need to document what the employee is doing wrong and/or failing to do. You need to counsel the employee. You may need to come up with and supervise a performance improvement plan. You need to have the support of 2 to 3 levels of management above you, else you're poking at windmills. You need to propose successively stronger discipline. The documentation process requires time. If you're stretched too thin, because you're required to supervise more employees than you have time for, you can't do it. It's also important to nip problems in the bud. You can't wait years before you attack the problem.

Thu, Mar 17, 2011 Beel VA

@ Ph.D. Phil--no disrespect intended, but why in the world would you continue to put in 70-100 hour work weeks given your situation/treatment? Is it not time to "go right by the book"? Just curious.

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 Guillermo The Midwest

I would have to agree with Hickory Starr; I was a federal manager for over 13 years and found that it was almost impossible to discipline poor performers. My agency has a pass/fail annual performance review and I have yet to see anyone fail. The manager to employee ratio is so high that supervisors just don't have time to honestly keep tabs on individual performance. The only training I received as a supervisor was one two-week school! My own performance was judged by my boss who was over 5 hours away from my work location and he saw me maybe once or twice a year; so how could he give me an honest appraisal? We have an awards program for top performers, if you perform well you get some recognition, but if not you still get "longevity pay" from the GS system. Until federal supervisors have been training and a better performance evaluation system, pay per performance will fail as it already has with DOD and DHS.

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 Disgusted

Let's put Congress under Pay For Performance and see how that goes.

Wed, Mar 16, 2011 Phil California

I have worked as a civil servant for decades. I am a PhD with 20 years of experience, yet I work on a military base where I have been told repeatedly in exactly these words: "There is nothing you can do to get rewarded for your performance." I have had supervisors, all of whom are military officers who rotate or retire every 2 or 3 years, none of whom have every supervised a civilian before. Not one of them has so much as bothered to put me in for even a Step Increase despite 70-100 hour weeks year after year, and excellent ratings and numerous technical and cost-savings advances and publications. One of my supervisors rarely showed up for work more than 2 days a month, as she knew she was retiring. Pay for performance would be fine, but the incompetence of many supervisors - whose performance is absolutely not reviewed, at least for military officers supervising civilians - makes this concept sound good, but simply untenable in practice.

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