dencg/Shutterstock.com

Why Management Problems Are a Barrier to Pay Raises and Reform

Performance improvement starts with managers, but they need help.

The Government Accountability Office recently released a report titled “Human Capital: Update on Strategic Management Challenges for the 21st Century,” which the author also submitted as testimony at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee hearing on civil service reform. In contrast to several past hearings, there was minimal tension and general agreement between, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., chairman of the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management, and ranking member, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. The statements of the four witnesses were supportive of the workforce.

But a core problem highlighted in both the report and at the hearing is the failure to manage federal employee performance effectively. That problem has been recognized repeatedly in GAO reports. A search for the words “employee performance” on GAO’s website on found 17,000-plus reports and testimonies discussing the problem.

It’s central to the reasons GAO has included human capital management on its high-risk list for years. It’s also the underlying reason why positive response scores on related Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey questions have been the lowest for multiple years. Perhaps most important, many of the performance problems might have been avoided with better management.

Now those performance problems are a barrier to salary increases and civil service reform. It’s a Catch-22. Congress unlikely will approve increases to close the pay gap as long as performance problems are in the headlines. But media reports and FEVS response data suggest the problems are deep-seated and will be difficult to resolve in the absence of reform. That makes performance management improvement key to a more competitive salary program.

Setting the Stage for Reform

A lot can and should be done to set the stage for reform. The management changes mandated by the 2010 GPRA Modernization Act need to be digested. Agencies should continue to develop performance metrics. Communicating performance data more extensively would also help. Goal setting that emphasizes continuous improvement would be valuable. That would contribute to a culture where everyone understands performance is a shared priority.

But the most important step is supporting managers and supervisors in developing the behaviors and skills to get the best performance out of their people. GAO again has repeatedly issued publications that discuss “managers and the need for improved performance.” A search on the phrase found 332 released in the past six months. One on point from February is “Improved Supervision and Better Use of Probationary Periods Are Needed to Address Substandard Employee Performance.”

The system or process used to manage employee performance has a lot in common with other management systems. It all depends on the managers using the system. That’s basic; it’s a tool for managers. Human resources usually has the lead in administering performance systems, but realistically HR has virtually nothing to do with the day-to-day management of performance.

When the process is seen as a success, it’s because of the way managers handle it; when it’s a failure, it’s generally because managers are not committed to making it a success. When leaders fail to make performance a priority their attitude cascades to lower levels. Unfortunately, the problems are pervasive at all levels, including the Senior Executive Service.

Preparing Managers to Manage

In her hearing statement, Patricia Niehaus, president of the Federal Managers Association, supported reform and pay for performance. This comes from someone who “worked with managers under four separate pay systems,” including the failed National Security Personnel System. She made a number of recommendations, noting that “a shift in the culture of any organization cannot occur without an interactive, ongoing training process that brings together the managers responsible for implementing the personnel system and the employees they supervise. Implementation trumps design as the biggest factor in a system’s ultimate success or failure.” My 40-plus years of HR experience confirms she is correct.

Training is to be sure essential, but it has to be more than the routine steps in the performance system. Sessions on performance planning and goal setting are critical. A session on providing feedback and coaching should also be provided. In addition, there should be a session on handling the year-end discussion of an employee’s rating. The goal should be to develop effective behaviors and skills.

But training lessons are often forgotten or not used, if they are not encouraged and reinforced. Managers need to know their effectiveness will be important to their careers. To agree with the Niehaus recommendation, the best managers should be rewarded. Reducing the funds for bonus awards is counterproductive; the funds should be increased and used to reward managers. Employees should play a role in evaluating their supervisors.

Government does, however, need to invest in developing more credible performance systems. That should be done agency by agency. The frequently expressed concern about the “few bad apples” makes it essential that ratings reflect actual job responsibilities. That’s also important to reducing inflated ratings. Continued references to a governmentwide system make no sense. To ensure new systems are accepted and used, managers and employees at each agency should be involved in the planning.

Recent and projected retirements make this an ideal time to undertake a federal version of Google’s Project Oxygen to identify what successful managers do and to reconfigure the selection, training and evaluation practices to prepare the next generation of managers. There is broad agreement that reform is needed. It should start with executives and managers.

Howard Risher managed compensation consulting practices for two national firms and has written four books, including Aligning Pay and Results. He has an MBA and Ph.D. from the Wharton School.

(Image via dencg/Shutterstock.com)

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.