Council moves forward on performance management plan

Labor-management group recommends better training for supervisors and more feedback between employees and their bosses.

The federal labor-management council on Wednesday accepted recommendations to improve the government's performance management system, approving for agencies a roadmap that emphasizes better training for supervisors and more communication between employees and their bosses.

A key component of the plan, which has been discussed at previous meetings of the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations, would align employee performance with agency performance. "People working hard to improve the performance of our agencies and people working hard to improve employee performance are often not communicating and working with each other, but rather working on parallel tracks," said the draft report from the council's Employee Performance Management Work Group. "We think this disconnect is part of the reason that good employee performance management has been so elusive."

The framework also recommends that agencies articulate their own specific high-performance culture, inculcate accountability at all levels from rank-and-file employee to senior leadership, create a culture of ongoing feedback between workers and their supervisors, and improve the selection and training of managers.

"We're trying to create a cyclical process without creating more bureaucracy," said Justin Johnson, Office of Personnel Management deputy chief of staff, during the council's meeting.

Six agencies will participate in a pilot program to test the new performance management framework: the U.S. Coast Guard, OPM, and the Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and Veterans Affairs departments. Energy, for example, plans to test out 360-degree reviews for managers to acquire feedback on how well supervisors are doing their jobs. The test agencies will provide results of the pilot program at the January 2012 labor-management council meeting.

"Already six agencies have committed to pilots of these common-sense recommendations, and they are involving employees of all levels, which should make these reforms more successful than previous attempts," said Jessica Klement, government affairs director for the Federal Managers Association.

The plan also calls for the creation of a Performance Management Integration Board composed of senior executives across government, including agency performance improvement officers, other chief executives, and employee union representatives.

The government traditionally has had a difficult time incorporating effective performance management systems that adequately evaluate how well employees and managers do their jobs. "Starting with the goal of improving the federal performance management system, we came to realize that we do not have a systems problem -- our problems are human ones and they are entrenched in the cultures of our agencies," said the draft report from the council's work group. One problem, according to the group, is that supervisors often are chosen and promoted based on their technical expertise rather than their leadership skills.

The plan also provides a performance checklist for agencies to use to evaluate employees and managers. The five criteria broadly outline how to plan, monitor, develop and rate performance, as well as ensure accountability for high performers and those who fail to meet expectations.

Of the recommendations, Johnson said that it was "crucial that this isn't just something we talk about." The work group, however, acknowledged in its report that obtaining sufficient resources to develop and maintain an effective performance management system governmentwide will be a challenge during these uncertain fiscal times. "An employee performance management system must be appropriately resourced to provide performance awards, other incentives, and training," the report stated. "Lack of funding or inconsistent funding leads to inconsistent and poorly implemented employee performance management processes."