Managers urged to give forward-looking performance advice

When it comes to enhancing employees' job performance, federal managers should take a comprehensive approach and not rely solely on annual evaluations, a new IBM Center for the Business of Government report recommended.

With the private and public sectors renewing their emphasis on performance management, federal agencies should take broad steps to better coach employees, the report's authors, Howard Risher and Charles Fay, concluded. Risher is a consultant; Fay is a professor and chairman of the Human Resource Management Department at Rutgers University's School of Management and Labor Relations.

According to Risher and Fay, the terms "performance appraisal" and "performance management," often are used interchangeably, but they are critically different. While performance appraisals generally occur once a year and "are not designed to improve performance," performance management "is a broader, more comprehensive process that is future-oriented," they wrote in the report.

The Bush administration has pushed pay-for-performance measures, but the initiative has been met with resistance from labor groups like the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees. The report attributes that resistance to employees' lack of trust that they will be treated fairly in performance appraisals. Before pay for performance can be seriously discussed, "the emphasis should be placed first on putting effective performance management practices in place," the report stated.

"NTEU supports making the performance management process, and the resulting appraisals, more transparent, credible and fair …" said Colleen Kelley, the union's president. "As the report acknowledges, a pay-for-performance system cannot ever be successful without a fair, transparent and credible performance management system, and the pay determinations must be linked directly to the results under the performance management system."

The authors included recommendations for how the government could avoid appraisal tunnel vision and implement effective performance management practices. One of their suggestions was to better define what "performance management" means.

"A very real part of the problem in addressing performance issues is the use of poorly defined and loosely used words and phrases," they stated. They also recommended involving employees in the process of defining what successful performance is. According to Kelley this interaction is key.

"Agencies' efforts at improving performance management would be greatly aided if managers would listen to employees and their representatives about the best way to do the work of the federal government," she said.

The report advised agencies to lay the groundwork before embarking on performance management programs: Agencies first must change existing cultures and involve and prepare individuals who will be affected the most.

Risher and Fay cited the Homeland Security Department as one agency that recognized the need for cultural change. This realization played a role in canceling MaxHR, a personnel system designed to give the department more flexibility and tie pay more closely to quality of work, the report indicated.

"As DHS apparently came to realize, the organization has to be ready to embrace more rigorous performance management practices, and managers need to be ready to make tough but honest decisions about the performance of their employees," the report stated.

DHS is still engaged in personnel reforms, but is moving more cautiously on the pay-for-performance aspect. The new program is called the Human Capital Operational Plan.

Performance management success stories are generally small in scale, Risher and Fay said, and it's easier to introduce performance management and, eventually, pay for performance, in smaller organizations. Achieving high levels of performance depends on the support and cooperation of managers and employees. "It cannot be mandated or controlled from a distance," the authors noted.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.